UNC Tennis Star Files Class Action Lawsuit over Prize Money Compensation Restrictions

May 3, 2024

By Vincent M. Jones Jr.

In a recent 58-page complaint dated March 18, 2024, plaintiff Reese Brantmeier (Tennis player at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) filed a class action complaint in the United States District Court of North Carolina on behalf of herself and all of those similarly situated against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) over alleged violations of anti-trust law under Section 1 of the Sherman Act with claims of price fixing and group boycott (15 U.S.C. § 1). The conferences under the umbrella of the NCAA include PAC-12, Big-Ten, Big-12, S.E.C., and the A.C.C., where Plaintiff currently attends U.N.C., the member school in question. These conferences are known as the “Power Five.” 

The Plaintiff and her legal counsel are seeking legal restitution and resolution through a permanent injunction against the unyielding rules that aim to prohibit individual sports athletes from receiving prize money for their athletic services. This lawsuit is carried on the shoulders of the previous legal action over the last three years opposing acting governing bylaws in what the NCAA calls “pay-for-play” restrictions. As another collegiate student-athlete looks for a solution to mend the disconnect between the NCAA and other individual sports athletes, the NCAA finds itself in another legal battle that may lead to transformative changes in athletes’ lives now and in the future.

According to the details of the complaint, the Plaintiff, Reese Brantmeier, a sophomore student-athlete currently attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (U.N.C. or Tar Heels) as a member of their Division 1 tennis team, is a standout player and academic scholar. Before she arrived at U.N.C., Brantmeier was a highly touted recruit from her hometown of Whitewater, Jefferson County, Wisconsin. Brantmeier went on to become the number 1 high school tennis player in the United States, Great Lakes Region, and the state of Wisconsin in the graduating Class of 2022 and received a ranking as high as 411 in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) singles rankings. Brantmeier received more than 200 full scholarships from multiple colleges and universities nationwide but decided to enroll at U.N.C.

In her brief time as a Tar Heel, Brantmeier was a part of the 2023 NCAA Division 1 Women’s Tennis Team National Championship, a runner-up finish in the 2023 NCAA Division 1 Women’s Tennis Doubles National Championship. Brantmeier is ranked number 2 in the number 1 in doubles by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (I.T.A.). Brantmeier also boasts First-Team All-ACC honors and four A.C.C. Freshman of the Week awards. Additionally, Brantmeier is an exceptional student in the classroom, receiving 2023 All-ACC Academic Team honors while holding a 3.958 GPA, double majoring in exercise and sports science and studio art with a minor in global cinema.

The Plaintiff files this class action lawsuit citing that the NCAA has exercised monopsony-like power in labor markets such as Division I, Division II, and Division III sports, more specifically, individual sport athletes from earning the maximum amount of prize money that could be received. The Plaintiff also includes contributing violations on the account of co-conspirators, including but not limited to firms, corporations, organizations, and firms that, similar to the NCAA and its member conferences and schools, profit from the restraint of trade by their agreement to abide by the NCAA’s restrictions (Page 10 and 11). As cited in the complaint, according to the NCAA, two categories of student-athlete compensation are presently prohibited under the basis of the NCAA’s amateurism rules. The first was the compensation of a student-athlete with the use of name, image, and likeness rights (NIL), which was prohibited until the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in NCAA v. Alston that now prevents the NCAA from enforcing its NIL rules in specific states (See NCAA v. Alston 141 S. Ct. 2141, Page 14). The second category of compensation is the aforementioned “pay-for-play” restrictions.

The NCAA does allow for individual sports athletes to compete in non-NCAA competitions but prohibits them from receiving prize money of any kind offered by third parties about athletic performance that results in more than their actual and necessary expenses (NCAA Bylaws and Under these circumstances, an individual loses amateur status if he or she uses athletic skill directly or indirectly for pay in any form or accepts a promise of pay even following intercollegiate participation (NCAA et al. 12.1.2). The complaint continues citing the NCAA’s exception for funds administered in the form of grants through the U.S. Olympics operations Gold program (NCAA Bylaws and The legal counsel of the Plaintiff states that the NCAA’s prohibitions of education-related, NIL, and specific pay-for-play compensation have not been extended to those who compete in individual sports who wish to accept prize money from third parties in connection with non-NCAA competitions (Pages 24 and 25).

While still in high school, the Plaintiff was entitled to receive $48,913.00 in total prize money from the United States Tennis Association for her performance in the Billie Jean King Girls 18’s National Championship in singles, which led to her advancement to the third round of singles competition in the 2021 U.S. Open Qualifying Tournament (Page 25). The complaint cites the Plaintiff requesting guidance from the NCAA on prize money to preserve her collegiate eligibility. However, due to NCAA Bylaws, Brantmeier was only eligible to receive up to $10,000.00 in prize money, resulting in a loss of $35,040.66 in potential earnings (Page 26). Additionally, the NCAA would not certify Brantmeier as an “amateur” athlete in her first season on the U.N.C. Women’s Tennis team, challenging the Plaintiff that some of the expenses during her 2021 U.S. Open participation were “actual and necessary.” Brantmeier was ultimately deemed ineligible by the NCAA and was reinstated when a payment of $5,100.00 was made to charity. (See footnote 30 on Page 28). The legal counsel to Plaintiff argues that if the eligible prize money awarded to Plaintiff were labeled as a grant, the issues that arose would have been put to a cease. In February of 2024, Brantmeier suffered a torn meniscus while practicing with U.N.C., forcing her to miss the entirety of the spring 2024 season (Page 30).

In addition to the financial gain that the NCAA and its member conferences and schools receive from television rights and NIL exposure, Plaintiff cites that the NCAA is aware that the benefits and payments made to student-athletes have not diminished consumer demand (Page 30). The NCAA Constitution states that schools or conferences are allowed to provide specified monetary awards for “winning an individual or team conference national championship (NCAA Bylaw as well as funds awarded through the U.S. Olympic “Operation Gold Program.” The Plaintiff alleges that the NCAA “does not have any coherent economic explanation for why certain categories of compensation are consistent with its concept of “amateurism while others are not” (Page 35.) Moreover, Plaintiff states that the NCAA is an acting monopsony buyer within relevant Division I, II, and III sports markets and can exclude schools and conferences that violate their rules (Page 37). The legal counsel of the Plaintiff goes on to mention that if athletes have the opportunity to compete at the intercollegiate level without these restrictions, they would choose to do so, hence outlining the market power of the NCAA and relevant labor markets for student-athletes (Page 38.)

The complaint alleges that the NCAA and its co-conspirators conspired to agree to artificially fix, depress, maintain, and stabilize prize money received by the Plaintiff and class members, agree to promote and engage in group boycotts and implement and monitor conspiracy among cartel members. The Plaintiff’s request for relief is multi-layered, under violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act-15 U.S.C. § 1 Price Fixing Conspiracy and Group Boycott:

  1. The Plaintiff and the Class seek a permanent injunction against the challenged restraints on compensation to Division I college athletes.
  2. A declaration that the NCAA’s Bylaws restricting the acceptance of Prize Money by Student Athletes competing in Individual Sports in non-NCAA competitions are illegal and unenforceable. The Plaintiff and the Class also seek a permanent injunction against the challenged group boycott restraints on compensation to Division I college athletes before or during their collegiate careers to accept prize money in connection with non-NCAA competitions.
  3. The plaintiff seeks an award of attorney’s fees, costs, and expenses. For a trial jury on all claims and issues so triable and for such other and further relief as the court may deem and proper.

Vincent M. Jones Jr. is a recent graduate of Florida State University’s Sports Management Program seeking a Juris Doctor degree.

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