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Friday, June 21, 2024

Volunteer D-I Baseball Coaches File Antitrust Suit Against the NCAA

  • In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, volunteer baseball coaches claim the governing body illegally sets their pay at $0.
  • This isn’t the first time the NCAA has faced litigation over its coaching compensation rules.
Ole Miss baseball players lean against dug-out during baseball College World Series in Omaha
Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA is facing another antitrust lawsuit — this time over baseball coaching rules and salaries. 

On Tuesday, Division I volunteer baseball coaches filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of California alleging the NCAA illegally limits not only the number of paid baseball coaches a team can hire, but also illegally price fixes a volunteer coach’s salary at zero.

Named plaintiffs for Smart et al. v. NCAA, which is seeking class certification, include Arkansas coach Taylor Smart and UC Davis coach Michael Hacker. 

The NCAA declined to comment.

  • The governing body’s bylaws — which schools agreed upon — allow for three paid D-I baseball coaches, and one unpaid coach.
  • The complaint alleges that volunteer coaches still perform full-time duties for no money, while some assistant coaches make six figures a year — and head coaches make more than a million.
  • As a result, the complaint said, a volunteer coach “performs significant valuable work, and who would be paid for that work in a competitive market, but who cannot be paid for that work.”

The NCAA’s rule “could potentially be seen as an unlawful restraint,” sports attorney Dan Lust told Front Office Sports. 

While the NCAA has volunteer coach rules in multiple sports, Lust believes baseball provides a potentially appealing case for two reasons. A successful class action needs to have a “narrow” group, which is aided by limiting the lawsuit to one sport. And given that baseball coaching salaries are higher than many other sports, the potential damages for limiting compensation are higher.

This isn’t the first time the NCAA has faced litigation over its coaching compensation rules. In the 1990s, a case called Law v. NCAA struck down an NCAA rule that capped certain Division I coaching compensation.

But Lust said a more recent decision, in NCAA v. Alston, likely paved the way for the complaint to be filed now because it ruled that the NCAA is subject to antitrust scrutiny.

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The plaintiff firm, Korein Tillery, is well positioned to represent volunteer coaches. Led by attorney Garrett Broshuis, who played both college and minor league baseball, it recently notched a major win: an $185 million settlement for minor league ballplayers in a lawsuit against MLB over low wages. 

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