Sports

Wilkinson Walsh has handled some of the most significant litigation matters and investigations shaping professional and college sports today, from an investigation on behalf of the world’s Governing Bodies of Professional Tennis to address insidious gambling-related corruption, to the NCAA’s ongoing defense of its fundamental rules governing the amateur status of student-athletes. The firm features a deep bench of lawyers with experience in sports litigation, led by Founding Partner Beth Wilkinson, who was recognized as a “Power Player” by Sports Business Daily. A more detailed description of some of our representative matters follows:

  • Todd McNair v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (Judge Shaller, Los Angeles Superior Court). Led by Partners Kosta Stojilkovic and Rakesh Kilaru, Wilkinson Walsh won a verdict at trial for the NCAA in a lawsuit brought by former University of Southern California (USC) assistant football coach Todd McNair. McNair alleged that the NCAA had defamed him in a Committee on Infractions report that was issued in 2010 and affirmed by a separate appeals committee. Apart from many other findings against USC, the Committee found that McNair had known about the improper benefits that star running back Reggie Bush received while at USC, and that McNair had failed to provide truthful information about them. In his lawsuit, McNair alleged that the statements about him in the report were false and defamatory, and he sought over $27 million in damages for that claim. He also brought claims for breach of contract and negligence. McNair dismissed the contract and negligence claims shortly before the case went to the jury, and the jury subsequently issued a verdict for the NCAA, concluding that none of the challenged statements were false. After the verdict, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frederick C. Shaller called the advocacy in the case “the best I’ve seen since I’ve been a judge.” The Wilkinson Walsh team received a "Shout-Out" from The American Lawyer for the win, and were named as "Law360 Legal Lions" for the victory. On January 16, 2019, Judge Shaller granted McNair’s Motion for a New Trial. An appeal is pending.

  • In re NCAA Grant-in-Aid Antitrust Litigation (Judge Wilken, United States District Court for the Northern District of California). Wilkinson Walsh represents the NCAA in consolidated lawsuits involving claims by current and former college football and basketball student athletes challenging, under the Sherman Act, NCAA rules limiting the level of athletics-based financial aid and benefits that student athletes may receive. The Plaintiffs set out to fundamentally change college athletics in America by attacking their defining characteristic—that student athletes are amateurs—making this one of the most important cases in the NCAA’s history.

    Alex Walsh and Rakesh Kilaru led the NCAA’s briefing efforts at the summary judgment stage. Beth Wilkinson then led the NCAA’s defense in a three-week bench trial that took place in September 2018. The Court’s opinion reaffirmed the procompetitive value of the NCAA’s rules limiting pay for student-athletes while enjoining certain limitations on benefits that student-athletes may receive. An appeal is pending.

  • In re National Football League’s “Sunday Ticket” Antitrust Litigation (U.S. District Court for the Central District of California). Led by Beth Wilkinson, Wilkinson Walsh represents the National Football League, its 32 member teams, and NFL Enterprises in this putative class action lawsuit. Plaintiffs’ antitrust claims challenge the NFL’s multi-billion-dollar exclusive distributorship arrangement with DIRECTV for Sunday Ticket and, even more fundamentally, the business arrangements whereby the NFL teams collectively license the broadcast rights to NFL games. Wilkinson Walsh and its co-counsel initially persuaded the court to dismiss all of Plaintiffs’ claims, with prejudice, because the challenged arrangement not only fails to violate the antitrust laws—but actually promotes consumer welfare by increasing the availability of live televised NFL games. The Ninth Circuit subsequently reversed that decision, and the case remains on appeal.

  • Independent Review Panel Regarding Gambling-Related Threats to Professional Tennis. Founding Partner Beth Wilkinson served on an Independent Review Panel tasked with reviewing betting-related integrity issues facing professional tennis. The Panel was commissioned by the organizations responsible for governing professional tennis, including the ATP, the WTA, the ITF, and the Grand Slam Board, after a 2016 report from BuzzFeed and the BBC alleged “evidence of widespread match-fixing by players at the upper level of world tennis.” The Panel conducted extensive interviews and reviewed substantial data regarding betting-related corruption in professional tennis, concluding that “tennis faces a serious integrity problem,” that “no level of professional tennis is immune from betting-related and other breaches of integrity,” and that “the problem is particularly acute and pervasive at the lower levels” of the sport. The Panel also advanced numerous recommendations for tennis to more effectively prevent betting-related integrity breaches and to more effectively punish wrongdoers, including limiting the sale of official live scoring data to reduce betting markets, restructuring player pathways to better align financial incentives, and creating a new supervisory board to provide independent enforcement oversight.

Before founding Wilkinson Walsh, the firm’s partners handled other significant sports-related litigation, including the successful resolution of nationwide concussion-related litigation for the NFL, the successful resolution of a federal class action against Major League Baseball following the elimination of a billion-dollar damages claim on Daubert grounds, and the dismissal of a legal malpractice action arising out a trial brought by retired NFL players against the NFL Players Association.