WASHINGTON -- Rules that end the college playing careers of athletes who enter a pro draft withstood a legal challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday as justices turned aside an appeal by former Notre Dame running back Braxton Banks.
Under NCAA rules, a college player's eligibility in a sport comes to an automatic end if that player signs up for a draft by pro teams. Eligibility also stops if a player gets an agent.
Banks signed up for the NFL draft and retained a lawyer to act as his agent in 1990, when he had another year of eligibility remaining.
He had sat out his senior year with a nagging knee injury.
He was at Notre Dame on a football scholarship, but wanted to turn pro rather than go to graduate school and complete a final season with the Irish. He was one of 38 players who wanted to turn pro that year while they still had college eligibility.
But when Braxton got no offers from any team, he decided to return to Notre Dame and play football in the 1990 season. As a full scholarship student-athlete, he was eligible for another $16,000 that year if he had been allowed to suit up.
He also thought another season would improve his chances for a pro career, removing doubts caused by his injury.
The NCAA, however, ordered him to forfeit his last season of playing opportunity because he had broken both the no-draft and no-agent rules.
Banks then turned to the federal courts, filing an antitrust lawsuit contending that the two NCAA rules amounted to a boycott by NCAA member colleges aimed at players like himself.
A federal judge and the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his lawsuit.
Banks asked the courts to stop the NCAA from enforcing the rules any longer, and demanded antitrust damages equal to three times the amount of his scholarship.
A federal judge threw out the entire challenge, and the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with that result in a decision last October. The Circuit Court said Banks had offered no proof that the NCAA rules would interfere with any kind of economic competition, so those rules could not violate the antitrust law.
In an opinion that strongly endorsed NCAA's claim that its rules are used to mark a clear dividing line between amateur college sports and the pro leagues, the Circuit Court said it would be wrong to interpret the NCAA rules as a form of economic control over the lives of student athletes.
Banks then appealed his case to the Supreme Court, asking that his antitrust claims be reinstated and sent to trial. Without comment, The Supreme Court refused to hear his case -- thus making the Circuit Court decision final.