Winston and Strawn LLP is working with the elite university students in their efforts to have the eight sports teams eliminated by the school in May reinstated, the firm recently announced.
The legal team will be led by Jeffrey Kessler, who is known, in part for his work representing Tom Brady and the NFL Players Association in what became known as the “deflategate” scandal of 2015.
Brown University, an Ivy League school in Rhode Island, announced in late May it would be doing away with 11 varsity sports teams in the coming year. School officials then said earlier this month they would no longer eliminate cross-country, and track and field, despite initial intentions to do so, according to the Providence Journal.
The plan to restructure its athletic department came after an external review in 2018-19 found the high number of varsity sports was a barrier to competitiveness. In the preceding 10 years, Brown had won only 2.8% of all Ivy League championships, last in the league.
The varsity sports were eliminated will instead be given club status.
"Universities, like all other businesses, must act with honesty and in good faith. Brown fell well short of this legal duty when it concealed the fact that it was planning, since at least January, on eliminating a number of its varsity teams even though it has repeatedly acknowledged it had no economic need to do so,” said Kessler in a prepared press release. “The school waited until it was too late for the affected student athletes to transfer, and then took action so that their participation on varsity teams – a key part of their experience at Brown – would be ripped away."
Brown still plans to scrap the following teams: women’s equestrian, women’s fencing, men’s fencing, women’s golf, men’s golf, women’s skiing, men’s squash and women’s squash, according to a letter sent to university officials on Thursday.
A spokesperson for Brown University told FOX Business school officials anticipated affected student-athletes would be disappointed, "which is why support for student-athletes has been our top priority since the initiative's launch."
But some students had already committed to the university as incoming student-athletes, such as incoming freshmen who were recruited to teams that will no longer exist, a spokesperson for the law firm told FOX Business.
"I was honored to be recruited by Brown and thrilled at the prospect of competing this fall," Alexis Kim, an incoming freshman, and a member of the women's golf team, said in a prepared statement. "To not have the opportunity to compete is disappointing, but not as hurtful as being misled by a school in, which I placed my trust. Competing at this level is part of who I am, and I would have preferred to choose a college knowing the truth."
Kessler urged Paxson and the school to begin a dialogue with the students and ultimately reconsider the decision, in a letter sent Thursday to Brown University President Christina H. Paxson.
“No one wants a legal battle if it can be avoided,” Kessler wrote. “To that end, we invite the university to engage in immediate settlement discussions with the coalition … However, time is of the essence.”
The school spokesperson said officials were aware of the letter and "will respond as appropriate."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The report was updated to include a statement from a Brown University spokesperson.