The United States Supreme Court on Monday unanimously upheld a ruling calling for a gradual increase in compensation for college athletes and also opening the door to future legal challenges that could deal a much bigger blow to the NCAA’s current business model.
Judge Neil Gorsuch drafted the court ruling confirming a district judge’s decision that the NCAA is violating antitrust laws by limiting the educational benefits schools can offer athletes. The resolution allows schools to provide unlimited compensation to their athletes as long as it is in any way related to their training.
Gorsuch wrote that the country’s highest court had limited the scope of its decision on these educational benefits rather than further delving into questions about the association’s business model. Judge Brett Kavanaugh released a consensual opinion taking a tougher line, suggesting that the NCAA’s rules limiting any type of compensation – including direct payments for athletic performance – may no longer hold up well in future antitrust challenges.
“The NCAA is not above the law,” wrote Kavanaugh. “The NCAA formulates its arguments for not paying student athletes in harmless labels. But the labels can’t hide the reality: The NCAA’s business model would be downright illegal in almost every other industry in America. “
The idea that college athletes shouldn’t get paid, a fundamental tenet of the 115-year-old NCAA, has been increasingly criticized in recent years. Federal antitrust lawsuits have slowly undermined the strict rules of amateurism over the past decade. Politicians in 19 states have passed laws in the past two years that censure the organization’s rules and will soon allow athletes to make money with the help of third parties. Monday’s ruling in the NCAA v Alston case is another blow at a particularly uncertain time for the future of amateurism.
“It’s great to win this 9-0,” lead plaintiff attorney Jeffrey Kessler told ESPN on Monday morning. “Hopefully it will be the next big step towards a really fair competition system for these athletes.”
The Alston ruling marks the first time in more than 30 years that the Supreme Court has weighed up on the governance of college sport. In 1985, the court upheld a ruling in the NCAA v. Board of Regents of Oklahoma University that the NCAA violated antitrust laws by limiting the number of times individual schools could appear on television. The resulting change led to an explosion in media rights revenue that reshaped the top tier of college sports. The 1985 Regent case found that the NCAA illegally restricted individual schools’ earning potential. This week’s Alston ruling confirms that the NCAA has unlawfully restricted the earning potential of individual athletes.
Despite the ruling against the NCAA in 1985, the court’s ruling, written by Judge John Paul Stevens, said that the association should still be given “plenty of leeway” to establish what it believed to be the most appropriate rules to get amateurism and the educational benefits that come with it. The NCAA’s appeal in the Alston case argued that a district court judge’s decision wrongly deprived them of the latitude they need to set their own rules.
The NCAA asked the Supreme Court to review a case first filed in 2014 by former West Virginia football player Shawne Alston. Judge Claudia Wilken ruled the Alston case in 2019, stating that schools should be able to provide their athletes with educational equipment, study abroad programs, internships and even cash rewards in exchange for academic achievements. The NCAA attorneys argued that these measures were “micromanagement” rules that should be established by the members of the NCAA, and that the additional benefits were “comparable to professional salaries”. Gorsuch and the seven other judges who agreed with him disagreed and wrote that Wilken had shown reasonable restraint in their decision.
“[Wilken’s] The verdict does not float on a sea of doubt, but stands on solid ground – a comprehensive record of facts, a well-considered legal analysis in accordance with established antitrust principles and a healthy dose of judicial humility, “wrote Gorsuch.
Kavanaugh wrote a concurring statement to underline that while the court’s verdict on the case was tight, “the remaining NCAA compensation rules also raise serious antitrust issues.”
Alston and his lawyers argued that any restrictions schools can offer their athletes in compensation are illegal. New antitrust lawsuits making the same arguments against the NCAA have already been filed. The organization has asked Congress for help in drafting a limited antitrust exemption that would protect them from some future legal claims, while the organization can continue to impose some restrictions on athletes’ compensation, an important step in maintaining a professional and professional distinction University sports. So far, many congressmen have been reluctant to give them an exception.
“Today’s Supreme Court ruling shows the tide of the NCAA and its unfair treatment of college athletes,” said Senator Chris Murphy, who was one of the group’s harshest critics on Capitol Hill. “The status quo in terms of ‘amateurism’ is finally changing and the NCAA no longer has a license to control athletes’ livelihoods and monopolize the market. These are the kinds of justice and fundamental rights college athletes deserve. “
The NCAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Alston ruling on Monday morning.