Lawsuit Challenges Ivy League’s Ban on Athletic Scholarships

by Riley Overend 18

March 30th, 2023 College, Ivy League, News

A federal antitrust lawsuit filed earlier this month by a pair of Brown University basketball players is challenging the Ivy League’s ban on athletic scholarships.

Current Brown junior Grace Kirk (women’s basketball) and recent graduate Tamenang Choh (men’s basketball) argue that the eight members of the Ivy League — Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yale — have unlawfully conspired to deny athletes any compensation or reimbursement for education-related expenses in exchange for their athletic services. They are seeking class certification to represent at least 10,000 Ivy League athletes recruited since 2019.

The Ivy League’s member schools have a combined endowment of more than $170 billion, but according to Choh & Kirk v. Brown et al., they are the only ones out of the more than 350 colleges and universities in Division I to collectively “refuse to provide any athletic scholarships or other compensation/reimbursement for athletic services.” They hailed Stanford, Georgetown, Notre Dame, and Duke as examples of academically elite schools that “demonstrate they can maintain stellar academic credentials while competing for excellent athletes, and without agreed-upon limits on price.” The lawsuit listed Yale’s 10-year, $16.5 million branding deal with Under Armour among evidence of the massive revenues generated from Ivy League athletics.

The complaint points out how Ivy League colleges use money and employment perks as inducements to lure top professors or successful coaches away from competitors. However, when it comes to “athletically and academically high-achieving students who wish to play DI sports,” those same competing schools agree to not give out athletic scholarships.

All eight Ivy League schools offer both men’s and women’s swimming. Cost of attendance can exceed $80,000 a year, more than what need-based financial aid covers.

If Choh & Kirk v. Brown et al. is successful, the plaintiffs would be awarded monetary damages related to money they would have received, multiplied by three as per antitrust law’s trebling feature.

The case marks yet another legal battle sparked by successful lawsuits from Ed O’Bannon and Shawne Alston that deemed the NCAA subject to ordinary antitrust scrutiny. College athletes could soon be considered employees depending on the outcome of Johnson v. NCAA, currently being reviewed by the Third Circuit, or if the National Labor Relations Board makes a ruling based on the National Labor Relations Act. New NCAA president Charlie Baker has his hands full, to say the least, and Wednesday’s NIL hearing in front of Congress gave little hope that federal legislation will be the answer to the issues facing college sports.

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1 month ago

Wonder if Grace and Tamenang Choh have thought this through. If the Ivy League had in fact offered athletic scholarships during their tenure would they have been good enough athletes to be recruited in the first place. It’s highly likely offering athletic scholarships will significantly open up the recruiting pool to all Ivy League sports disciplines/coaches. That having been said 45 to 50 pcent of Ivy leaguers receive some form of financial aid.

2 months ago

Maybe we should treat Ivy League schools like D3 schools, you won’t get an athletic scholarship.
If you want academic or financial support you will have to “bargain” with the college, see what they offer before going.

If the school doesn’t offer great financial support then don’t go.
People go to Ivy League colleges because of the elite education and the name.

2 months ago

Those athletes made the decision to attend Brown knowing that Ivy league schools do not offer athletic scholarships. They could have attend Stanford, Duke, and Georgetown if they wanted an academic elite school.

2 months ago

As an Ivy swimming alum I got more money in regular need-based financial aid at my school than any athletic scholarship I was offered elsewhere (and we were fairly upper middle class – definitely didn’t get need based aid anywhere else). I LOVED the fact that my college experience was nearly identical to all of my non-athlete friends (other than our practice schedule). I had roommates who were opera singers, professional actors, or legitimately famous for another reason. They were all so outstanding in their fields that they absolutely would have earned full ride scholarships to most schools of their choosing, but we all went through the same financial aid process together and no one was hurting in the end… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by MedSwammer
2 months ago

“The lawsuit listed Yale’s 10-year, $16.5 million branding deal with Under Armour among evidence of the massive revenues generated from Ivy League athletics.”
– Saying that a 10-year deal for $16.5 million is a lot is funny.

Here are some numbers from the NCAA with regard to NET Revenue for D1 and the Median is in the red (negative) for ALL classifications so using that as an example of saying that there is a lot of money to give out might not be the best option.

Median (and Range) 2019 Revenues and Expenses for Division I Schools by Subdivision

Net Generated Revenue
FBS – $18,790,000 ( – $65.3 million to + $43.7 million)
FCS – $14,316,000… Read more »

2 months ago

Ivy League schools also do not give academic scholarships. Or music scholarships. Or any scholarship. They provide grant in aid so that any student granted admission only pays what is determined they and the family can afford. And at the end- there is no money owed. So- if your family can only afford )10,000 for the year – that’s what you pay. The rest is a grant to you for the benefit of your education that year. Their philodophy is to provide an opportunity to all students who can gain admission due to their academic excellence. However it should not be a surprise that athletes do gain admission with less academic accomplishment, lower SAT scores and a less vigorous high… Read more »

Reply to  Sjswimmom
1 month ago

The problem is, THEY are the ones who determine what families can afford to pay, not the families. The most recent guestimate using their ballpark online tool suggests I should be able to afford to spend 40% of our family’s AGI on school.

It’s also not coincidental that the advent of NIL saw both the men’s and women’s basketball teams from Princeton do exceedingly well this past season. There are likely wealthy alumni supplementing the need-based aid these basketball players are getting makes their financial aid more akin to an athletic scholarship elsewhere. This allows them to be viable options for middle-income kids who otherwise couldn’t afford to pay full sticker price but who’s families make just enough to… Read more »

2 months ago

There’s a line in the complaint that states both plaintiff athletes “would have received full athletic aid” at the Ivy League schools they attended if the Ivy League allowed athletic/merit aid. That’s a big assumption, and their evidence is that they were offered at least 1 full ride elsewhere. Why didn’t they get offers at Stanford, Duke, Rice, or one of the other academic powerhouses cited as positive examples in the lawsuit? (for the legal minds out there, how can this even be tried if it’s not a matter of fact?)

Seems like entitlement on the part of the athletes. Nothing like lawyers to make the most of a situation.

Finally … if they win (somehow), we might have to… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by alo
Reply to  alo
2 months ago

Rowing at Ivy’s…that’s your example? Really?

2 months ago

Did these student athletes not understand that all decisions include trade offs? The ivy league hast never hidden the expense of their institutions or the fact that they do not offer athletic scholarships. these athletes have always known exactly what they are getting Into with the pay off being the value of their diploma upon graduation. If they are unhappy there is a transfer portal.

Reply to  Olsswim05
2 months ago

The twist of “need-based aid” certainly changed the competitiveness of the Ivies (keeping them more stacked with good athletes than they would otherwise be)… Patriot League (also small D1 schools) has more regulations governing these workarounds. This has been explored in depth in a book published 15 years ago…

Reply to  Olsswim05
2 months ago

And if the Ivies offered athletic scholarships would these two have been offered any and have an opportunity to attend an Ivy school…….. once athletic scholarships are offered at the Ivies the game has changed at these institutions

Reply to  Olsswim05
2 months ago

Good for them. They’re not doing it for themselves, one has graduated the other is a junior and will be graduated by the time this moves through legal system. Student athletes challenging the stays quo is welcome.

Reply to  PowerPlay
2 months ago

They may well change the status quo by destroying Ivy Athletics at institutions where much of the non-athlete (narp) student body already opposes athletic-based admissions.

The argument keeping sports like swimming and track afloat is that all student-athletes pay tuition and sports like football, lacrosse, crew, etc bring in wealthy alumni support.

Big Kicker
Reply to  Olsswim05
2 months ago

I’m sure they are very aware of how the ivy league handles athletic scholarships. That doesn’t mean they don’t have legal grounding to challenge it.

IU Swammer
Reply to  Olsswim05
2 months ago

What you’re saying is true, but not really the issue. Federal anti-trust laws prohibit companies from colluding to not compete against each other on a specific front. For example, say a group of widget makers decide shipping costs are too variable and are killing everyone’s bottom line, so they all agree to bill the buyer and no one offers free shipping. The customer isn’t cheated–they know they have to pay for shipping. But the free market is cheated because the companies should be competing on every front, and thereby innovating. The free market can’t self regulate if all the players agree not to compete, because it’s the competition that does the regulating.

A real-life example of this is light… Read more »

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

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