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A federal judge in Pennsylvania has dismissed an antitrust suit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association brought by owners of private summer basketball camps who claimed the NCAA’s new recruiting rules were designed to give camps run by its member colleges a competitive advantage and to drive the private camps out of business. In her 32-page decision in Pocono Invitational Sports Camp Inc. v. NCAA, U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody concluded that the NCAA’s rules are “immune” from antitrust liability since they were enacted for “paternalistic reasons.” “The NCAA has provided substantial evidence in support of its position that the rules were enacted to protect young players from being exploited,” Brody wrote. “I conclude that when the NCAA promulgated these rules it was acting in a paternalistic capacity to promote amateurism and education,” Brody wrote. Although the recruiting rules may have an effect on commerce, Brody found, under antitrust law, they should not be considered “commercial” since the NCAA’s motives in passing them were not profit-oriented, but were intended to protect high school student athletes. In the suit, a coalition of private summer basketball camp operators challenged several NCAA bylaws and regulations, arguing that the net effect of the rules was to give a competitive advantage to camps run by NCAA member colleges. One rule bars NCAA Division I coaches from working for private camps but allows them to work at NCAA member college camps. Another rule bars Division I coaches from evaluating prospects at a private camp unless the camp is certified by the NCAA. The suit also challenged an extensive list of regulations the private camps must comply with to be certified. Finally, the suit challenged the NCAA’s decision to reduce the “evaluation period” during which coaches are permitted to visit the private camps. The plaintiffs in the suit are Pocono Invitational Sports Camp Inc., Eastern Invitational Basketball Clinic Inc., Future Stars Basketball LLC, Five-Star Basketball Camp Inc.; and Blue Star Productions Inc. The plaintiffs’ lawyers — Ira P. Tiger of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, and Louis J. Sinatra and Darin J. McMullen of Pelino & Lentz — alleged two claims under the Sherman Antitrust Act as well as a claim of tortious interference with contractual arrangements. The suit alleged that the NCAA enacted the challenged rules “in order to protect institutional basketball camps and to harm non-institutional basketball camps” and that the NCAA has “threatened to destroy non-institutional basketball camps.” But the NCAA’s lawyers — David P. Bruton of Drinker Biddle & Reath and Gregory L. Curtner and Frederick R. Juckniess of Miller Canfield Paddock & Stone in Ann Arbor, Mich. — argued that the NCAA’s regulation of the recruiting of student athletes is designed to protect the young prospects from being exploited. Recent changes to the rules, they said, were a response to a growing concern that the summer evaluation period had become “cancerous” and that the campers were subjected to too much pressure. In their motion for summary judgment, the defense lawyers said the NCAA considered sponsoring or running its own camps in the early 1990s but decided instead to develop a program for certifying private camps. Under the certification rule, Division I coaches would be permitted to attend and evaluate prospects at non-institutional camps only if they complied with the certification requirements. In that way, the defense lawyers argued, the NCAA was not exercising direct control over the private camps, but only over the coaches, who are employees of NCAA member institution schools. Brody found that the certification process, with all its requirements, was designed to protect students from specific harms. “Many of the certification requirements, such as the requirement that camp staff not have a history of illegal involvement in sports, the prohibition of gifts and inducements, and the requirement that camp events not be financed by marketers, are grounded in the paternalistic goal of separating high school athletics from the realm of professional sports,” Brody wrote. Likewise, Brody found that the NCAA shortened the summer evaluation period “so that prospects would have more recruiting time when parents and coaches were available to supervise the process.” In doing so, Brody said, the NCAA’s goal “was to increase the importance of scholastics and decrease the impact of non-scholastic external influences on the prospects’ lives.” Brody credited the deposition testimony of Graham Spanier, the president of Pennsylvania State University, who served on the NCAA board of directors and the executive committee that approved the change in the number of evaluation days. “Spanier noted how physically and emotionally taxing the length of the summer evaluation periods was for high school students, and how the community was concerned about the diminished involvement of high school coaches,” Brody wrote. “This finding supports the NCAA’s position that the rules were enacted in the spirit of promoting amateurism, and with the prospects’ best interests in mind.”

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