Derek Thompson, North Texas’ former starting quarterback, has agreed to be the lead plaintiff in a federal antitrust lawsuit alleging that the NCAA and its member conferences have conspired to deny college athletes adequate compensation for their performances.
Thompson said this week that his college career that included three seasons as a starter could not have been a better experience. But he said his financial situation off the field led him to become a crusader for college athletes who help their schools make millions through football, basketball and other sports.
“The perception is that since I didn’t make it to the NFL that I am trying to get money,” said Thompson, who is starting his first year as an assistant coach at Denton High School. “That’s not the case. I don’t care if I get a dime. I want to make the situation better for future student-athletes.”
The federal suit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis alleges that college scholarships do not cover the full cost of attendance and that the NCAA and its member conferences have set a ceiling for the compensation athletes receive. The suit seeks to remove that ceiling and allow schools and athletes to compete in an open market.
Thompson is the only named plaintiff in the lawsuit. Brian Gudmundson, his attorney, said several former college athletes are involved in the suit.
Gudmundson said the suit seeks to be certified as class-action complaint. His firm specializes in class-action suits.
The complaint could be combined with other suits in a northern California federal court and heard by U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken, who ruled against the NCAA in a case brought by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon last week.
Wilken’s ruling said that the NCAA’s current rules “violate antitrust law” by preventing football and basketball players from selling the rights to their names and likenesses often used in video games.
Gudmundson said the Thompson case makes a similar argument.
“This is a case to try to allow competition in the market place,” Gudmundson said. “The NCAA has dictated what colleges can offer students. What they are offering is not sufficient. As things change, we want to have a voice in that change and allow student-athletes to participate in a free market.”
The NCAA contends that the scholarship model appropriately compensates athletes.
“We have reviewed the case and note its similarity to cases already filed challenging the athletics scholarship model,” Stacey Osburn, the NCAA director of public and media relations, wrote in response to a question about the NCAA’s stance on the lawsuit. “Like those cases, we continue to believe the award of athletics scholarship is appropriate and lawful.”
Thompson spent five years at UNT and finished his career ranked second on the school’s career passing list with 7,447 yards. The former Glen Rose standout threw for 256 yards and two touchdowns in the Mean Green’s 36-14 win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl in his final college game.
Thompson was named the game’s MVP.
While Thompson said he enjoyed his experience at UNT, he believes college athletes often are not provided the financial support they need.
“The amount of money given to scholarship athletes doesn’t match the cost of attendance,” Thompson said.
The issue was one both C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky and UNT coach Dan McCarney addressed at the league’s annual media day in Irving this summer.
Banowsky said the league is committed to providing full-cost-of-attendance scholarships that would give student-athletes an additional $1,500 to $5,000 per year beyond the cost of tuition, books and room and board.
“We think it is the right thing to do,” Banowsky said. “That does not violate the principles of the collegiate model.”
McCarney also supported the move but said his bigger concern is the level of support student-athletes have overall.
“If we worry more about how much money they have in their pockets instead of preparing them for the journey we call life and getting a degree, then we have problems,” McCarney said. “I will fight for that as long as I coach.”
Thompson says that by participating in the lawsuit he can help change the future of college athletics for the better.
“Derek’s a solid guy who puts the interest of others before himself,” Gudmundson said. “He wants to help the school and the sports he loves. Derek is not in this to get a couple of bucks.”