CHICAGO – The NCAA agreed on Tuesday to help athletes with head injuries in a proposed settlement of a class-action lawsuit that college sports’ governing body touted as a major step forward but that critics say doesn’t go nearly far enough.
The deal, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, calls for the NCAA to toughen return-to-play rules for players who receive head blows and create a $70 million fund to pay for thousands of current and former athletes to undergo testing to determine whether they suffered brain trauma while playing football and other contact sports.
A lead attorney for the plaintiffs who spearheaded nearly a year of talks culminating in the agreement said the provisions would ultimately improve players’ safety and leave open the possibility of damage payments later.
“I wouldn’t say these changes solve the safety problems, but they do reduce the risks,” Chicago attorney Joseph Siprut said. “It’s changed college sports.”
Others strongly disagreed.
Unlike a proposed settlement in a similar lawsuit against the NFL, this deal does not set aside any money to pay players who suffered brain trauma. Instead, athletes can sue individually for damages; the NCAA-funded tests that would gauge the extent of injuries could establish grounds for doing just that.
One plaintiffs’ attorney not involved in the negotiations called it a “terrible deal” that lets the NCAA off the hook far too easily. Jay Edelson called the agreement “window dressing,” saying the NCAA will be able to settle one-off suits for several thousand each. He estimated that single, class-action damages settlement could have been worth $2 billion to players.
“Instead,” he said, “it’s worthless.”
The settlement is primarily directed at men and women who participated in basketball, football, ice hockey, soccer, wrestling, field hockey and lacrosse.
Tuesday’s filing serves as notice to the judge overseeing the case that the parties struck a deal. At a status hearing later in the day, U.S. District Judge John Lee said he wanted more time to consider whether to give the deal preliminary approval. If he does, affected athletes will have a chance to weigh in before Lee decides about granting a final OK.
The NCAA, which admits no wrongdoing in the settlement and has denied understating the dangers of concussions, hailed the deal.