The Red Storm Decides to Play in a Different Court

May 17, 2024

By Robert J. Romano, JD, LLM, St. John’s University, Senior Writer

Rick Pitino teams are known for their aggressive style of play on the basketball court, but now that same aggressive behavior is being utilized by his players in a different court – a court of law. On April 26, 2024, two of St. John’s men’s basketball players, Christopher Ledlum and Jordan Dingle, filed a three-count complaint with the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Queens, seeking ‘injunctive relief’ from the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) ruling that denied their individual requests for a fifth year of eligibility. The gravamen of their lawsuit contends that the NCAA unlawfully denied both Ledlum and Dingle a fifth year of eligibility per its COVID-19 waiver which was granted to athletes whose 2019-2020 seasons were disrupted because of the global pandemic. Per the waiver, NCAA student-athletes were afforded five seasons of competition to be completed within six years, instead of the customary four seasons of competition to be completed within five years. This COVID waiver, in essence, allowed student-athletes to replace the partially lost 2019-20 season, but Ledlum, who previously attended Harvard before transferring to St. John’s, and Dingle, who previously attended Penn, also lost the 2020-2021 basketball season because the Ivy League decided not to have sporting competition during that academic year.

“These two student-athletes were unable, through no fault of their own, to play basketball during their sophomore season since the Ivy League canceled all winter sports during the 2020-21 academic year,” their attorneys said in a statement. “They were forced to sit and watch while other D-I conferences continued with all or part of their winter seasons, despite COVID. To add insult to injury, the student-athletes who had a chance to participate in athletics during the COVID year received an extra year of eligibility, while student-athletes from conferences that shut down their seasons were not afforded similar treatment. This decision by the NCAA is unreasonable and highly unfair to student-athletes from the Ivy League, and other similarly situated conferences that elected not to play during COVID.”[1] Basically claiming that not being allowed to compete for an additional season will have ‘dire consequences’ on the athlete’s academic and athletic pursuits, as well as on NIL aspirations.[2]

Legally, however, the two Red Storm players allege that the NCAA ruling is a violation of Section 1 of the Donnelly Act, New York State Human Rights Law – Executive Law Section 290, and the New York State Education Law – Right to Pursue Higher Education and Name, Image and Likeness.[3]

New York State’s Donnelly Act is the primary state antitrust law and is similar to Section 1 of the Sherman Act, which proscribes “every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce”[4] Ledlum and Dingle contend that the NCAA and its member institutions (which, ironically, St. John’s University is one of) have violated the Donnelly Act through their adoption and enforcement of the NCAA’s ‘Five-Year Eligibility Rule’ and the inequitable application of the above-mentioned COVID waiver.[5] Specifically, the NCAA has unlawfully restrained the ability of Division 1 college athletes to compete despite facing circumstances beyond the athlete’s control or where the athlete is subject to extraordinary or extreme hardship.

Regarding Section 290 of New York Human Rights Law, which states that every individual in New York is afforded an equal opportunity to enjoy a “full and productive life”, the athletes claim that the NCAA’s act of not allowing an additional year of eligibility denies them the ability to pursue an excellent education at St John’s University, while also negating their rights to prepare for a career in professional sport and earn income pursuant to New York’s NIL laws. New York’s NIL laws were enacted in 2023 and allow student-athletes to legally monetize their name, image, and likeness (NIL) without fear of losing either their athletic scholarship or eligibility. The argument being that denying them the right to play an additional year, denies them opportunities to leverage their NIL and earn substantial monies.

            The question I have regarding this matter, however, is which concern, or ‘dire consequence’, is most important for the parties involved: having or not having the opportunity to showcase any and all basketball skills for the 1% chance to play in the NBA, having or not having the continued opportunity to leverage NIL deals and the monies that go along with such, or having or not having the right to continue getting educated?


[2] Queens County Clerk Index No. 708939/2024

[3] Queens County Clerk Index No. 708939/2024

[4] 15 U.S.C. Section 1.

[5] Bylaw 12.8 (Five Year Rule) provides that a student-athlete has five years to complete four seasons of intercollegiate competition in any one sport.

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