Court Gives HBCU Student Athletes Green Light in Case Challenging NCAA’s Academic Performance Program

Sep 24, 2021

A federal judge from the Southern District of Indiana has handed a victory to a group of Black student-athletes at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), who are seeking to change NCAA rules that they claim intentionally discriminate against and punish them.

In denying, in part, the NCAA’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the court ruled that the claims of two former student-athletes could move forward. If the case is certified by the court as a class action, the case could represent the hundreds of HBCU student-athletes who have been “negatively impacted by the program,” according to attorneys at FeganScott and May Lightfoot Law, who are representing the plaintiffs.

The case, filed in 2020, alleges that the NCAA’s Academic Performance Program (APP) — created as a way to improve student-athlete academic performance — instead “undermines HBCUs’ mission to serve the historically underserved Black community, including Black student-athletes.” It further alleges that the NCAA “knew the APP was racially discriminatory but enacted and enforced it anyway.”

The suit alleges that the APP applies postseason bans that deny players opportunity to compete with their peers and receive all the privileges, accolades and media coverage that come with post-season play, which may affect their career trajectories and potentially lucrative post-college benefits. The suit maintains that the bans interfere with the contracts formed between institutions and their athletes, arguing that players are prevented from receiving the full benefits of their contracts and the athletes and schools cannot access greater publicity and revenue from highly publicized events. HBCU teams are 43 times more likely to receive such bans than teams at other, predominantly white institutions, according to the attorneys.

In assessing the NCAA’s motion, the court found that Troyce Manassa and Austin Dasent have plausibly alleged unequal treatment and the injuries caused by the NCAA’s system. “Beyond the injuries caused by the APP system and denial of the privileges and benefits enjoyed by their peers and predominantly white institutions, and unequal access to career, scouting, and other opportunities, the plaintiffs also allege mental and emotional harm, humiliation, embarrassment and degradation,” according to the attorneys. The court further ruled that, at this stage, the plaintiffs’ claims should not be barred as untimely because they alleged they did not discover the discriminatory purpose of the APP until just before filing suit.

Although claims will be allowed to move forward, the court did dismiss claims against NCAA’s Board of Directors and the NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors.

The suit seeks compensation and punitive damages on behalf of all Black student-athletes who participated in Division I NCAA sports at HBCUs from 2010 to present and who were injured through the implementation of the APP program.

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