May 20, 2024

Twin brothers Matt and Ryan Bewley, former five-star prospects who signed to play basketball at Chicago State this season, sued the NCAA in federal court after they were denied eligibility for receiving money they say was generated from their name, image and likeness while competing for Overtime Elite Academy.

The federal antitrust lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Chicago on Wednesday, accuses the NCAA of violating its own NIL policies, the Illinois Student-Athlete Endorsement Rights Act and federal antitrust laws.

The brothers, who lived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, before competing for Overtime Elite Academy in Atlanta, are seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction from a federal judge to compete for Chicago State, which opens the season Monday at Bowling Green.

U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman scheduled a hearing for Tuesday regarding the injunction.

Under pressure from state laws, the NCAA changed its rules in July 2021 to allow athletes to make money by selling the rights to their name, image and likeness. But according to the lawsuit, the Bewleys were declared ineligible because the NCAA says they were paid a salary. According to an email from the NCAA cited in the lawsuit, the twins’ compensation from Overtime Elite exceeded actual and necessary expenses allowed under the NCAA’s rules; they competed for a team that considered itself professional; and they competed with and against other pros.

The Bewleys’ attorneys claimed the twins sold their NIL rights to Overtime Elite Academy and were compensated for them.

“The NCAA simply ignores this undisputed fact because the compensation package is described as a ‘salary’ in the Bewleys’ contract while later versions of the OTE contract described the compensation as a ‘scholarship,’ ‘financial aid,’ and NIL compensation,” the lawsuit reads.

Overtime Elite (OTE) opened in the fall of 2021 with the goal, according to its website, of providing “an alternative pathway for athletes looking to play basketball at the next level.”

In its inaugural season in 2021-22, in which the Bewley twins first competed, OTE offered only professional opportunities. Players reportedly received a minimum salary of $100,000, but others were paid more. The next fall, according to the website, “OTE began offering athletes a scholarship option — instead of a salary — which provides unparalleled development and educational opportunities at OTE while preserving college eligibility.”

Two former OTE players, twins Amen and Ausar Thompson, were the Nos. 4 and 5 picks in the June NBA draft by the Rockets and Pistons, respectively.

According to documents filed in the case, the Bewley twins were each paid at least $33,333 per month while competing at OTE during the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons. In an email to Chicago State University associate athletic director Tom DeVinney, the NCAA wrote that the twins received $31,347 “more than what they may earn to cover their additional expenses per month.”

The NCAA wrote that the U.S. average monthly expenditure is $5,577 per month, but because the Bewley twins received additional benefits, including lodging, three meals per day, transportation reimbursement and educational services, they were permitted to receive only $1,986 per month to cover additional expenses.

“If a prospective student-athlete receives any amount above what Defendant deems to be actual and necessary expenses, the NCAA proposes that it has a right to permanently exclude the prospective student-athlete from intercollegiate athletic competition,” the lawsuit reads.

“Based on its prior communications with the Bewleys and Chicago State University, Defendant has made the arbitrary determination that the Bewleys received compensation from a professional team that was above the NCAA’s threshold of actual and necessary while their teammates who received similar compensation from the same team were permissibly compensated in exchange for use of their NIL.”

The NCAA and the Bewleys’ attorney, Dominique Price, didn’t respond to requests for comment from ESPN on Friday.

NCAA bylaw provides an exception that allows student-athletes in sports other than ice hockey and skiing to “compete on a professional team provided the individual does not receive more than actual and necessary expenses to participate on the team.”

The Bewleys’ attorney argued in the complaint that the NCAA bylaw is an “artificial wage cap enforced on young athletes who aspire to compete in intercollegiate athletics. This bylaw prevents aspiring student athletes from earning compensation from teams beyond the amounts the NCAA deems actual and necessary expenses.”

The lawyers accused the NCAA of using “selective enforcement” in declaring the Bewley twins inactive because the governing body awarded eligibility to two former Overtime Elite players: freshman guards Rob Dillingham of Kentucky and Kanaan Carlyle of Stanford. Carlyle and Dillingham played at Overtime Elite this past season, after a scholarship pathway was available.

“The NCAA cannot by its actions treat Overtime Elite as an amateur high school showcase and then later declare it to be a professional league only for two specific individuals,” the lawyers wrote in a motion. “Such selective enforcement is an abuse of power that cannot survive judicial scrutiny under the rule of reason.”

The brothers were the first players to sign with Overtime Elite after playing at West Oaks Academy in Orlando, Florida, in 2020-21. Matt, a 6-foot-9 forward, was ranked the No. 3 prospect overall and No. 1 power forward in the 2023 ESPN 300 before signing with Overtime Elite. Ryan was the No. 12 prospect and No. 6 power forward.

Chicago State, one of only two Division I independents, went 11-20 last season. Cougars coach Gerald Gillion was the twins’ AAU coach with Team Breakdown in Florida.

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