The University of Florida must release financial aid records and related documents pertaining to all of its current student athletes – as well as all Gators from between 2016 and 2020 – as part of a potential class-action lawsuit against the NCAA and its Power Five conferences.
All of the NCAA’s 350-plus Division I schools were sent a subpoena stemming from a federal antitrust lawsuit filed in California, according to the law firm representing the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit seeks financial reparations for current and former college athletes who may have lost opportunities for monetary gain associated with their respective name, image and likeness. It names as defendants the NCAA and its Southeastern, Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 Conferences. The conferences are comprised of 65 schools, including UF.
UF intended to submit its records by Monday, according to an email senior university counsel Michael Ford sent to current and affected former student athletes on Oct. 15.
“Important: You nor the University of Florida are being sued in this litigation,” Ford wrote in all capital letters in the email. It also said the subpoena was not seeking medical records, academic records or “financial information pertaining to your family.”
Over 1,200 student athletes have competed as Gators across 13 different sports since 2016, according to Steve McClain, a spokesperson for the University Athletic Association (UAA).
The NCAA’s website states that there are more than 170,000 Division I student athletes.
McClain and UF spokesperson Steve Orlando both declined to discuss the subpoena or elaborate on Ford’s email, saying that neither entity comments on pending litigation.
After several states passed their own legislation, the NCAA on July 1 waived its bylaws barring athletes from profiting off their names, images and likenesses (or NIL) in ways such as sponsorships, autographs, appearances and hosting private lessons or clinics.
The three plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Oakland – University of Oregon basketball player Sedona Prince, Arizona State University swimmer Grant House and former University of Illinois football player Tymir Oliver – contend the NCAA owes them more.
They are seeking reparations for their missed opportunities to profit off of their name, image and likeness – and a cut of broadcast revenue for football and basketball players. The suit also intends to win damages for college athletes who competed between 2016 and a judgment date.
The plaintiffs have requested class-action status for the lawsuit, but that has not yet been granted. If approved, all Division I student athletes whose records align with the plaintiffs’ claims and competed during the four-year span could join the plaintiff class.
UF was legally obligated to inform its affected athletes of its intent to comply with the subpoena.
Ford’s email also included a copy of the subpoena, which was time stamped Sept. 23 by his office. The athletes had until Oct. 25 to send any objections to the office, according to the email.
Eight current and former Gators across six sports told WUFT they received no further explanation from UF or UAA beyond Ford’s email.
Thayer Hall, a senior outside hitter on the women’s volleyball team, initially thought the email was spam. After speaking with current and former teammates, she decided it was legitimate. Her stomach dropped to her feet, she said.
“I thought I was going to court,” Hall said. “I was just so confused.”
Senior Addie Baggarly chose to not compete this season on the UF women’s golf team to maintain her eligibility at Baylor University in Texas next year as a graduate transfer.
“I still have people reaching out to me from Hawkins (the athletes’ academic center on campus) like every day,” she said, “so I’m kind of surprised no one has told us about this.”
Joseph Fahnbulleh, a junior track and field sprinter who finished fifth in the 200m race at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, also hadn’t heard about the subpoena before speaking with WUFT. Same with Kendyl Lindaman, a former Gators softball player and now a graduate student coach, and Mohamoud Diabate, a junior linebacker on the football team. Shannon Kavanagh, a former lacrosse player, said she briefly looked over the email but didn’t fully understand it.
All four said they were OK with their records being used as evidence in the case.
Orlando also said he could not answer questions regarding UF’s policy for communicating with students whenever ordered to turn over their records, again citing pending litigation.
When considering which past UF athletes lost the most due to previous name, image and likeness restrictions, it’s likely football or basketball players (Tim Tebow and Bradley Beal) or even future Olympians (Ryan Lochte). Today, however, it may not be the case.
Social media, of course, is a key factor in the name, image and likeness equation, and Gators gymnasts Riley McCusker and Alyssa Baumann are outpacing the school’s top quarterbacks, Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson, on Instagram. McCusker, a freshman, and Baumann, a graduate student, have over 143,000 and 65,400 followers, respectively. Jones, a redshirt junior, has more than 60,300 and Richardson, a redshirt freshman, has nearly 38,000.
Using a study from AthleticDirectorU, which assigned a value of $0.80 per follower, McCusker’s potential earnings could exceed $114,000. Baumann, Jones and Richardson would earn $52,000, $49,000 and $30,000, respectively, according to the study.
Listen below: Several Gators share issues they have with the NCAA’s name, image and likeness rules.
Two experts on antitrust and sports laws didn’t understand why the subpoena was necessary.
Matthew Mitten, a law professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee, said the fact that athletes missed opportunities to profit off their NIL should be “undisputed” in court.
“You can just look at the NCAA rulebook and say, ‘Hey, that’s pretty clear,’” Mitten said.
In a brief statement sent by email to WUFT News, Steve Berman, managing partner of the law firm representing the plaintiffs, Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, said “the NCAA and its members have engaged in an unlawful conspiracy – limiting the NIL compensation available to college athletes – that we strongly believe has caused substantial financial harm.”
Tim Davis, a law professor at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, said it’s unlikely a court might award retroactive judgment because it would be too speculative to assign a value.
Instead, he said, the court could choose to invalidate the NCAA’s name, image and likeness rules, which are currently waived, meaning they still exist but are no longer enforced. Davis said the court could also force the NCAA to begin sharing TV revenue with athletes.
“It’s just such uncharted territory,” he said. “But I can tell you this: From a sports and legal perspective, it’s going to be fascinating.”
College athletic associations use TV revenue from football and basketball to fund non-revenue generating sports like tennis and swimming. If participating schools must share the money moving forward, they could be forced to cut the less profitable sports, Davis said.
As a harbinger, financial pitfalls during in the COVID-19 pandemic forced that to happen.
Davis said schools would start looking elsewhere to make up for lost money. For example, he said, an expanded College Football Playoff could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars.
“So much of this is going to depend on the remedy,” Davis said.
Most Gators who spoke with WUFT said they’re owed some kind of compensation for their time competing at UF before NIL restrictions were lifted.
Hall, who has around 27,100 Instagram followers, remembers jewelry, clothing and meal prep companies offering her discounts and brand ambassador positions via direct message and email. Not only was she barred from accepting these offers, she couldn’t even respond to decline.
“It also was a dig at my reputation and my character because that’s not who I am,” the volleyball star said. “I want to respond. … I want to say, ‘I’m sorry.’”
Hall now partners with Novus, a uniform and activewear apparel company, and Empire State Jewels. She said, however, with one month left in the regular season, there isn’t enough time left in her career to take advantage of the opportunity.
Baggarly also said her NIL window is limited, especially because golf is not a revenue-generating sport. While accepting that student athletes like herself may not be owed as much, she said all athletes deserve more compensation for the hours they put into sports while in college.
“Realistically, it’s a full-time job,” Baggarly said. “And then some. It’s your whole life.”
Fahnbulleh agreed that being a college athlete is all-consuming. Reparations should correspond with popularity and performance, with the elites among the elite seeing the most money, he said.
“Not every athlete is Joe Burrow,” Fahnbulleh said of the Heisman Trophy-winning Louisiana State University quarterback who plays for the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL.
“Not every athlete is like Grant Holloway …” Fahnbulleh said of the former UF hurdler who won an Olympic silver medal this summer in Tokyo. “Grant should be getting paid.”
Holloway declined to comment for this story.
Listen below: Several Gators offer their perspectives on how women and Olympic sport athletes can benefit from name, image and likeness.
Diabate, the linebacker, said specifying the same amount of damages for each athlete would undersell too many who could potentially earn so much more.
“If you’re asking them to give people money, and it’s a uniform number, they’re going to make that uniform number low as hell,” he said. “That’s just how people work.”
As a football player, Diabate said he agrees with the plaintiffs that athletes in revenue-generating sports should see at least a small portion of broadcasting rights.
“I mean, we are the show,” he said.
Diabate said he has deals with The Gator Collective, which brings UF athletes and fans together for exclusive content and experiences; YOKE, an app allowing fans to play video games with athletes; and Outback, where he can eat up to $500 worth of food each month.
After having to turn down a chance to profit from paid autographs over the last couple of years, he said he appreciates the new marketplace. Still, he feels cheated for lost opportunities.
“Changing the rule is basically admitting they were wrong,” Diabate said. “They’ve got to right that wrong.”
While Lindaman would like reparations from the NCAA, she said money isn’t all that she’s owed. Transitioning from college softball to the much smaller professional sport showed that her UF playing career offered the most visibility she can expect.
“It’s opportunities for me,” she said, “and I feel like that’s something I can’t get back.”
Editor’s note: Alexis Ashby is a former member of the University of Florida lacrosse team.