Football

Morning Constitutional: Who Pays Legal Fees for Transfers Seeking Immediate Eligibility?

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Today’s Topic: Who Pays Legal Fees for Transfers Seeking Immediate Eligibility?


There is a budding legal industry surrounding college athletes who have transferred and are looking for immediate eligibility. Attorneys are hired to present cases to the NCAA that their clients shouldn’t have to sit an entire season out before being allowed to play.

They make these arguments based on circumstances of each player, citing precedents or extenuating circumstances out of a player’s control, or anything really that they think will work.

Generally, they’re pretty effective.

Last year, Shea Patterson sought the help of attorney Tom Mars, and their case was successful.

Mars is a very popular attorney in this particular area of expertise, which is one of the reasons he has been retained by Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields.

Fields transferred from Georgia last week, but unless he is granted immediate eligibility, he will have to sit out the 2019 season. Mars and Fields will contend that they have the necessary circumstances to be allowed to play at Ohio State next year, and most people expect their argument to be successful.

This process brought up an interesting question on The-Ozone forum Wednesday: who pays the legal fees?

Mars isn’t likely to address clients’ finances, so I asked OSU’s football compliance department who would be footing the bill in cases like Justin Fields’.

For legal reasons (federal law kinda reasons), they declined to address Justin Fields’ particular case, but Ohio State did set out the guidelines for helping student-athletes in general situations.

They are as follows:

NCAA regulations stipulate that student-athletes and/or their parents or legal guardians must pay the going rate for legal or other services.

However, a student-athlete may receive reduced or free services if he/she can demonstrate that the same benefit is generally available to other students at the institution. In the case of pro bono legal services, the following guidelines need to be met:

1.     The student-athlete initiated the contact with the legal firm;

2.     The legal firm has provided similar services to other needy individuals and;

3.     The firm uses nonathletic criteria or analysis to determine which individuals qualify for pro bona or discounted services. 

Finally, institutions may elect to cover a student-athlete’s legal fees in instances where the proceeding impacts a student-athlete’s eligibility.

At Ohio State, as is the case at most universities, every student pays into student legal services, and for about $40 per year students can receive some “free” legal help. For students enrolling this semester, such as Fields, that fee is reduced to around $23.

Of course, none of the student legal services likely needs to apply to Justin Fields because the only line from Ohio State that truly matters about the legal fees is the last one.

“Finally, institutions may elect to cover a student-athlete’s legal fees in instances where the proceeding impacts a student-athlete’s eligibility.”

And given how thin the Buckeye quarterback room is looking like right now, don’t expect Ohio State to get cheap all of a sudden. They need Justin Fields to be eligible more than Justin Fields needs Justin Fields to be eligible.

2 Responses

  1. Wow, even more information on this Pandora’s Box that has already been opened. If potential transfers (and their parents!) believe they don’t even have to pay legal fees, there’s added encouragement to bolt for “greener pastures”. One thought (and it is a stretch)- could “eligibility” refer to academic eligibility, rather than to eligibility to immediately participate in athletics of any sort? Seems like schools would want to fight legal fees that explode like Old Faithful, especially in such a relatively unexplored area of athletics. Who would want their own policies/wording to be used against them in such context? Higher ticket prices to cover this added money pit, anyone?

    1. Oh, I can pretty much guarantee that it’s blanket eligibility, academic OR athletic. And I agree with you.

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