North Carolina tennis player files suit challenging NCAA's rule that prevents players from winning prize money

Alabama golfer Nick Dunlap won a PGA Tour event in February as an amateur but was unable to collect the first-place prize money

ORLANDO, FL - MAY 20: Reese Brantmeier of North Carolina hits a forehand during the Division I Women's Tennis Championship between North Carolina and NC State held at the USTA National Campus on May 20, 2023 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Preston Mack/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
North Carolina tennis player Reese Brantmeier is challenging the NCAA's ban on outside prize money for athletes. (Photo by Preston Mack/NCAA Photos via Getty Images) (Preston Mack via Getty Images)

Yet another lawsuit has been filed against the NCAA with the goal of changing the way the governing body caps athlete compensation.

North Carolina tennis player Reese Brantmeier filed a suit Monday that challenges the NCAA’s prohibition on athletes making prize money in outside events. In the suit, Brantmeier and her attorneys argue that the NCAA is allowing players in revenue sports to make money via name, image and likeness endorsement deals and players in non-revenue sports should be afforded similar opportunities to make money by playing other events.

“Over the last three years, tens of millions of dollars have flowed with the NCAA’s knowledge and acquiescence, to mostly male student-athletes in the Power Conferences from third-party, booster-funded and operated collectives that are associated with virtually all NCAA FBS-level athletic departments and which sprung up in 2021 in the wake of the NCAA’s temporary suspension of its rules prohibiting name, image and likeness payments.

“While these tens of millions of dollars have been paid to student-athletes under the guise of acquiring rights to utilize their NIL, the vast majority of the money is in reality ‘pay-for-play’ compensation to student-athletes that has little or no relation to the actual market value for the supposed NIL services that the student-athletes must provide ‘in exchange’ for that compensation.”

The suit then goes on to note that the NCAA’s ban on athletes earning prize money in non-NCAA tournaments and events is “farcical.” It asks for a U.S. District Court in North Carolina to rule that “the NCAA’s bylaws restricting the acceptance of prize money by student-athletes competing in individual sports in non-NCAA competitions [is] illegal and unenforceable.”

“Nonetheless, with certain minor exceptions, the NCAA continues to prohibit student-athletes at those same institutions, who compete in sports that do not generate massive profits, from accepting cash awards, bonuses and other monetary prizes awarded through non-NCAA competitions. The NCAA’s farcical and anachronistic justification for such restrictions on payments is that the acceptance of money by student-athletes would destroy the NCAA’s concept of ‘amateurism.’”

The most recent occurrence of the example Brantmeier cites came on the PGA Tour in February. Alabama golfer and U.S. Amateur champion Nick Dunlap won The American Express but wasn’t able to collect the first-place prize money because of his amateur status. Dunlap made the decision to turn pro shortly after his win so he could compete on the PGA Tour and make money.

To keep her status as an amateur and stay eligible at North Carolina, Brantmeier has been unable to collect any prize money she wins at non-NCAA tennis tournaments dating back to before she was a college athlete.

This suit comes after the NCAA has seen its rules challenged and overturned by governments and courts in recent years. It opened the NIL floodgates after state legislatures across the country made it possible for athletes to earn endorsement income and its rule prohibiting undergraduates from transferring twice was recently struck down. And in 2021, the NCAA lost the NCAA v. Alston case as the court affirmed that the NCAA’s rules capping athlete benefits were a violation of antitrust law.

Brantmeier’s suit seeks class-athlete status on behalf of other athletes who have the opportunity to play in events with prize money. The Wisconsin native was part of North Carolina’s NCAA-winning women’s tennis team as a freshman in 2023 and was the No. 9-ranked singles player in the country.