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Backers of NCAA head-injury deal press anew for court OK, argue against opponents' claims

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ST. LOUIS — Attorneys pushing for a judge to give preliminary approval to a proposed $75 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA said Friday that claims it unfairly forces athletes affected by head injuries to forfeit hundreds of millions of dollars are untrue.

In a Chicago federal court filing that's part of what's likely to be a long approval process about the deal, the attorneys countered opposition lodged last month on behalf of Anthony Nichols, who says he sustained concussions while an offensive lineman for San Diego State from 1989 to 1992.

Nichols, who would be among tens of thousands of male and female athletes covered by the sweeping deal, has argued in court documents that the proposal's benefits to athletes would be paltry compared to what the NCAA gains: legal protection from having to pay out what the filing argues could have been a billion dollars or more in damages.

But in Friday's motion, attorneys behind the deal insisted that assertion is "unfounded by any fact."

"Further, the 19 individual personal injury cases currently pending against the NCAA, in comparison to the 5,000-plus individual NFL players with pending lawsuits, deflates Nichols' bold claim that billions of dollars owed to NCAA players had been left on the table," Friday's filing read. "Nichols' claim that hardly anyone will benefit from the program has no basis in fact."

PHOTO: UTSA defender Brian King (10) breaks up a pass intended for Arizona's Austin Hill, left, during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
UTSA defender Brian King (10) breaks up a pass intended for Arizona's Austin Hill, left, during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Under the deal, the NCAA would create a $70 million fund to test thousands of current and former athletes for brain trauma and sets aside $5 million for research. The NCAA also would toughen return-to-play rules for athletes who receive head blows. Among other terms, all athletes would be given baseline neurological tests to start each year to help doctors determine the severity of any concussion during the season.

Nichols' filing last month zeroed in on a settlement provision that would require football, hockey, soccer and other contact-sport athletes to give up their rights to seek a single, potentially blockbuster sum in damages as a class. They can sue as individuals, but the filing says most couldn't afford the legal costs and so won't.

Friday's motion defending the settlement dismissed that.

Nichols "contends that the settlement deprives class members of any day in court as no lawyer would take an $8,000 to $20,000 concussion case," that motion read. "Such declarations sound awful, and were they even remotely true we should be terminated as lead counsel."

A message left Friday night with one of Nichols' attorneys, Rafey Balabanian, was not immediately returned. Calls to another Nichols attorney, Jay Edelson, were met by a greeting that said his voicemail was not able to accept new messages.

The first class-action suit was filed in 2011 in Chicago on behalf of former Eastern Illinois safety Adrian Arrington, and 10 similar head-injury suits were later consolidated into the one that was heard in federal court in Chicago. Arrington's lawyers took the lead in nearly a year of negotiations with the NCAA before the proposed settlement was announced July 29.

Other filings by proponents of the settlement spelled out how the settlement's terms would be disseminated, including by major sports publications and online websites.

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