A federal judge in Chicago rejected a proposed $75 million class-action head injury settlement with the NCAA on Wednesday, portraying the deal as too unwieldy and potentially underfunded and urging both sides to go back to the drawing board.
Under the proposal, NCAA would toughen return-to-play rules for players with concussions and create a $70-million fund to test current and former athletes in contact and non-contact sports for brain trauma. It also would set aside $5 million for research.
The first-of-its-kind deal was designed to settle a host of class-action suits accusing the NCAA of failing to protect athletes against head trauma. In return for the testing program and for improving the safety of current players, the agreement would also shield the NCAA from being hit with a single, blockbuster damages payout.
In his 21-page opinion Wednesday, U.S. District Judge John Lee held out the hope that the agreement could be refashioned to address its shortcomings.
"The court encourages the parties to continue their settlement discussions … to address these concerns," Lee wrote. He added later that the proposal was "a significant step in trying to arrive at a resolution of this highly complex matter."
At an October hearing, Lee raised concerns that contact sport and non-contact sport athletes were covered under the proposal, as were former players going back 50 years or more. He said at the time: "The settlement, as it's constituted, includes every athlete for all time. … Doesn't it make sense to have a more manageable period?
A plaintiffs' attorney who spent nearly a year negotiating the proposal, Joseph Siprut, said Wednesday evening that he remains optimistic a reconstituted settlement will be approved.
"I would view this as a step along the way, but we've had a million steps along the way already. And we'll eventually get there," he said.
NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn did not have an immediate comment on the ruling, saying only that the governing body was "reviewing the decision."
Chryst is Wisconsin's new football coach
Paul Chryst is coming home to coach Wisconsin. The school made it official on Wednesday, hiring Chryst away from Pittsburgh. The announcement ended days of speculation following the surprising departure of Gary Andersen for Oregon State.
Chryst is a former Wisconsin offensive coordinator and a Madison native. He leaves the Panthers after going 19-19 in three seasons, returning to his hometown and alma mater.
"Very appreciative and honored for this opportunity," he said.
The 49-year-old Chryst had two prior stints as an assistant for the Badgers. Most notably, he was part of the Wisconsin staff from 2005-11, helping the Badgers to five double-digit victory seasons and two Rose Bowls. He was coordinator in 2011 when the high-scoring Badgers featured quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Montee Ball.