0

Former Rice football star sues school in landmark case

Photo by Mike Phillips

Photo by Mike Phillips

A former Rice University football player is suing the NCAA over its policy to limit athletic scholarships to one-year, renewable awards.

Joseph Agnew played two seasons for the private Houston school before coaches told him in 2007 his scholarship would not be renewed. Agnew was a highly recruited prep player at Southlake Carroll near Fort Worth before a series of injuries his sophomore year.

He appealed the university's decision and received a scholarship his junior year but did not receive any tuition money as a senior. The school's website lists tuition for the 2008-09 academic year at $33,120, excluding students fees, room and board.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco. It seeks class-action status.

Steve Berman, a Seattle attorney handling the case for Agnew, said the NCAA's rules violate federal antitrust laws.

"The restrictions against multiyear scholarships relegate today's student-athletes to modern-day gladiators, but all they're really winning is the chance to fight again for a spot on the team next year," he said Wednesday.

The Indianapolis-based NCAA says its rules are clear, and have been since four- and five-year scholarships were eliminated in 1973: Athletic scholarships are merit-based awards that require adequate academic achievement as well as meeting "participation expectations" on the playing field.

That approach is more consistent with "the more typical approach taken within higher education for talent-based and academic scholarships," NCAA spokesman Bob Williams said.

In May, the Justice Department's antitrust division initiated an inquiry into the NCAA's scholarship rules. A spokeswoman for the federal agency declined to discuss the status of that probe Wednesday.

Some advocates for college athletes have suggested that coaches on the recruiting trail don't fully explain scholarship limitations, suggesting the one-year renewal rule allows coaches to "run off" players who fail to adequately perform on the playing field, regardless of their academic standing.

The lawsuit said Agnew's playing time diminished after Rice coach Todd Graham, who recruited Agnew, left for Tulsa and was replaced by former Texas quarterback Major Applewhite.

A school spokesman said the school follows NCAA rules and noted that Agnew was no longer enrolled.