The Supreme Court - Photo by Tim Sackton, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

LISTEN TO ANALYSIS FROM PEYTON THOMAS:

 


The Supreme Court of the United States unanimously ruled Monday that the NCAA is violating antitrust laws by limiting educational-related benefits to students, paving a path for student-athletes to receive more benefits than ever before.

NCAA v. Alston was more narrowly focused on the NCAA’s ability to restrict educational-related benefits to students, but the decision has the potential to change the concept of amateurism and athlete compensation in collegiate sports forever. The decision in favor of Alston opens the door for further lawsuits questioning the legitimacy of the NCAA’s amateurism model.

 The plaintiffs in the case were current and former student athletes, led by former West Virginia football player Shawne Alston. They argued that the NCAA violated antitrust laws by capping the compensation athletes could receive as part of their scholarships. They had previously won in a Northern District of California Circuit case, which the NCAA appealed.

The Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the district court against the NCAA, agreeing that in limiting educational-related benefits they were in violation of antitrust laws. While the opinion of the unanimous court, delivered by Justice Neil Gorsuch, focused on the educational-related benefits that were at the center of the case, Justice Brett Kavanaugh delivered a concurring opinion detailing broader issues at the center of the NCAA’s model.

 Justice Kavanaugh said that the NCAA’s current model would be “flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America.”

 “Businesses like the NCAA cannot avoid the consequences of price-fixing labor by incorporating price-fixed labor into the definition of the product,” Kavanaugh wrote.

Kavanaugh disputed the legality of refusing to compensate players on the notion that the defining nature of college sports is to not compensate its players.

 “Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate,” Kavanaugh wrote. “And under ordinary principles of antitrust law, it is not evident why college sports should be any different. The NCAA is not above the law.”

 Jeffrey Mishkin, a lawyer representing the NCAA, dismissed Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion, saying “I think that’s just not at all central to what’s been decided today.” But Kavanaugh’s searing opinion holds merit. In questioning the legality of the NCAA’s current model of amateurism, Kavanaugh opened the door for future lawsuits arguing against the NCAA’s model as a whole.

 This case marks the first time since 1984 that the Supreme Court has heard a case regarding amateurism and the antitrust laws in the NCAA when they ruled against the NCAA in NCAA v. Board of Regents. In Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion, he wrote that “stray comments” made in that case regarding college athletics and amateurism “have no bearing on whether the NCAA’s current compensation rules are lawful.”

 The NCAA said in a statement that the decision gives the NCAA the freedom to design “reasonable rules” and ability to decide what constitutes an educational benefit. They also addressed name, image and likeness, a hard-pressing issue that the NCAA is likely to pass legislation on before the end of the month.

“Even though the decision does not directly address name, image and likeness, the NCAA remains committed to supporting NIL benefits for student-athletes,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said.

 The NCAA Council is scheduled to meet today and Wednesday, where they will discuss and potentially vote on NCAA NIL proposals. Additional time is set aside on June 28 if another meeting is necessary. NIL laws will go into effect in six states on July 1, pressing the NCAA to get its policies in order.

Nebraska is one of 19 states that has passed NIL legislation. Nebraska NIL legislation can go into effect immediately, but no later than July 1, 2023.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said he will step in and develop temporary policies if NCAA rule changes are not in place by July.