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Walk-on suit against scholarship limits can proceed

SEATTLE -- A federal judge has cleared for trial a lawsuit challenging NCAA scholarship limits filed on behalf of football walk-on players who are shut out of financial rewards.

U.S. District Judge John Coughenour ruled Wednesday that the lawsuit filed on behalf of a former Division I-A player should go to trial, rejecting an NCAA motion to dismiss the case. The association argued that as a noncommercial operation, it is not subject to antitrust laws.

Coughenour found the plaintiffs had made a case that the NCAA has monopoly power over college football, and that they should have the opportunity to demonstrate that this monopoly caused antitrust injury.

NCAA officials in Indianapolis did not immediate return a call for comment.

The complaint filed by Andy Carroll, a University of Washington player who lettered from 1997-99, contends the NCAA scholarship limits exploit walk-on players who make up nearly a third of Division I-A college football rosters.

"The NCAA's artificial limit on the number of football scholarships is classic cartel behavior," the lawsuit says. "The NCAA and its member institutions control big-time college football. The NCAA uses that control to maximize revenues and minimize costs."

The lawsuit seeks an end to the NCAA limit on Division I-A scholarships, plus damages for football walk-ons who were harmed by
the policy.

Until 1977, schools were allowed to offer as many scholarships
as they saw fit, a rule that resulted in routine stockpiling of top
players by top schools. The number of scholarships was set at 95
from 1977-91; at 92 in 1992; and 88 in 1993. It has been at 85
since 1994.

The complaint says this reduces expenses and maximizes
profitability at the expense of student athletes and in violation
of antitrust laws. It says the limit affects poorer students, who
may not be able to attend a Division I-A school without
scholarships available for walk-ons.

Proponents say the scholarship reductions have made it easier
for smaller colleges to compete against traditional heavyweights,
and for all colleges to comply with federal Title IX gender-equity
rules that require the same number of scholarships for men and
women.

Carroll earned a position on the UW football roster for the
1996-2000 seasons, playing wide receiver and a special teams
position before graduating in 2000. Though many smaller schools
recruited him, Carroll chose the University of Washington because
of its Division I-A status.

"When I began my football career at UW, I was also led to
believe that if I played hard and played during the regular season
in games, I had a shot at a scholarship," he said when the lawsuit
was filed in May. "After my junior year when I had been playing in
games I asked about a scholarship and I was told none were
available due to the scholarship restrictions."

Carroll confirms that there were no promises.

"But there is the indication that if you get on the field and produce for the program, you have the potential to earn a scholarship. You feel you've earned it and when you go to ask for it, you're told they don't have it."