Nebraska Football Player Sue Big Ten Over Season Cancellation
Eight Nebraska student-athletes have file a lawsuit against the Big Ten Conference over its decision to cancel the fall football season. Not only do the plaintiffs believe that the Conference reached an improper decision that interferes with their legal and contractual rights, but they also accuse the Conference of failing to file the proper procedure and protocol in reaching the decision. The students are seeking to force the Big Ten to follow the proper procedures before it can cancel the season.
The geographical breadth of the Big Ten contributes to some of its issues. Unlike the Pac-10, which is concentrated in mostly Blue States on the West Coast, the Big Ten stretches from the urban areas in the East to the heartland in solidly Red States. This makes the league less of a homogenous entity as universities in Nebraska and New Jersey share the same conference. It was Nebraska which was the school that was most adamantly opposed to the cancellation of the football season. The university explored other options so that it could still play, including competing only with a non-conference football schedule.
While the Big Ten is discussing a season that will begin after Thanksgiving, it is still one of the few conferences to completely cancel their fall season. This is controversial among some athletes who just want to play.
The Lawsuit Is Not About Money for the Players
The lawsuit only seeks nominal monetary damages from the Big Ten. The players state that the lawsuit is not about money. Instead, the plaintiffs are seeking injunctive relief. Namely, the athletes want the Big Ten to hold the season as scheduled. In addition, the lawsuit seeks to learn more information about how the Big Ten arrived at the decision to scrap the season. The plaintiffs want to know whether the schools held a vote before they made their final decision.
The plaintiffs portray the decision to cancel the football season as a violation of the students' rights. They claim that they have followed all the protective measures specified to ensure that they do not contract or spread the virus. They argue that they have the right to play football. According to the plaintiffs, cancelling the season keeps the students from being able to make an impression on professional football scouts. They claim that they are at a disadvantage to athletes in other conferences who are able to play and potentially establish and improve their own draft position. The plaintiffs also are not able to build their own brand to sell their likeness.
Where the plaintiffs focus is on the process. The students claim that they have a right to expect that the Big Ten will follow its own governing documents when making important decisions such as whether to play football. Any decision where the Conference does not follow its established procedures would be arbitrary and capricious. However, the Big Ten Commissioner claims that a vote was held before the decision to scrap the upcoming season.
The Court Action Seems to Be a Longshot Even Before it Goes in Front of the Judge
The lawsuit stands little chance of succeeding in court. The university presidents would seemingly have the legal right to cancel the season, especially when classes are not being held in person at most schools because of the pandemic. Even if Nebraska students are back at in-person classes, students at other Big Ten schools are still attending virtual classes off campus. Regardless of their rights under a Nebraska law, they cannot force players in other states to compete against them, especially when the other players do not have the ability to sell their own likeness.
Moreover, these plaintiffs may not even represent a majority of Nebraska players. Other parents on the team have been quoted as saying that they support the decision to cancel the season. They do not want their children to contract COVID-19 on the football field and face long-term health effects. Other parents are casting this lawsuit as an effort to gain some transparency from what they claim was an opaque decision.
Since fall football season is around the corner, the lawsuit will proceed quickly. The judge initially has given the Big Ten only a few days to respond in writing to the accusations made in the lawsuit. The Big Ten's lawyer has responded that the players have a flimsy claim and have stretched their claim to make a dubious legal argument.
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