Court ruling paves way for new era in college athletics

The Supreme Court has dealt a striking blow to the NCAA in a unanimous decision regarding the organization’s model of amateurism.

Deciding on NCAA vs. Alston, the court ruled that “education-related” benefits provided by member institutions to its student-athletes cannot be prohibited by the NCAA. As a result, the decision opens the doors to a variety of resources that can now be supplied.

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The larger issue for the NCAA rests in the concurring opinion of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, however.

Adding a five-page opinion to the larger decision written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, Kavanaugh writes that the case of NCAA vs. Alston “involves only a narrow subset of the NCAA’s compensation rules,” but that the organization’s other compensation rules regarding compensation or benefits for playing sports should also be under close scrutiny.

Laying out his argument in three points, Kavanaugh acknowledges that those rules have not been decided in this case. However, he adds, those rules should receive “ordinary ‘rule of reason’ scrutiny under the antitrust laws, stressing that “the NCAA is not otherwise entitled to an exemption from the antitrust laws” upon which the organization has operated now for decades.

“The bottom line is that the NCAA and its member colleges are suppressing the pay of student athletes who collectively generate billions of dollars in revenues for colleges every year,” Kavanaugh writes. “Those enormous sums of money flow to see ingly everyone except the student athletes. College presidents, athletic directors, coaches, conference commissioners, and NCAA executives take in six- and seven-figure salaries. Colleges build lavish new facilities. But the student athletes who generate the revenues, many of whom are African American and from lower-income backgrounds, end up with little or nothing.”

The decision then sets the table for future lawsuits to further determine the legality of the NCAA’s prohibitions against outright compensation and other benefits unrelated to education provided by universities.

Kavanaugh writes in summation:

“To be sure, the NCAA and its member colleges maintain important traditions that have become part of the fabric of America—game days in Tuscaloosa and South Bend; the packed gyms in Storrs and Durham; the women’s and men’s lacrosse championships on Memorial Day weekend; track and field meets in Eugene; the spring softball and baseball World Series in Oklahoma City and Omaha; the list goes on,” Kavanaugh concludes. “But those traditions alone cannot justify the NCAA’s decision to build a massive money-raising enterprise on the backs of student athletes who are not fairly compensated. 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. 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.”

Concurrent to the Supreme Court’s decision Monday, Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellinger reported a memo signed by six D1 conference commissioners urging the NCAA to adopt an alternative name, image, and likeness set of standards moving forward.

Within the memo, the commissioners effectively push the NCAA to allow for individual universities to set their own NIL rules.

The proposal would run counter to what Penn State head coach James Franklin envisioned in a one-on-one interview with Blue White Illustrated earlier this month in which he expected standardized rules to be put into place – either through the NCAA itself nationally or via the federal government – moving forward.

“From what I understand, a lot of places are trying to wait, including the NCAA, and hope that the federal government will step in and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ Again, from an NCAA perspective, trying to make it consistent. Every state is coming out with its own bill, and it’s all over the map. And you really can’t conduct yourself like that. I mean, it’s all over the map,” Franklin said. “So, a lot of people, I think including the NCAA, are trying to wait for them to get with the federal government and say, ‘Okay, this is what we’re going to do, and it’s going to be the same across the board.’”


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