Against the backdrop of the biggest and most profitable event in college sports, March Madness, there is a decades-long reckoning underway that could forever change the landscape of college athletics. The Supreme Court begins hearing arguments in the case of Alston vs. National Collegiate Athletic Association on Wednesday
The case was brought by former Division I men's and women's college athletes who argue that the NCAA's rules restricting education-related compensation violate federal antitrust law.
This is the first time in nine decades that the nation's top court will hear a case involving the NCAA. At the heart of the matter is whether there should be a cap on educational benefits athletes are allowed to receive, such as computers, science equipment and musical instruments.
Attorney Jeffrey Kessler, the plaintiff's attorney, told CBS News' Jan Crawford that "what the players are hoping for is that the Supreme Court will reaffirm that the NCAA is subject to the same antitrust laws that apply to every other business in this country."
The case is just a small part of a bigger battle. College athletes, often on sports scholarships, are notfinancial compensation. But those same rules do not apply to students on a music or art scholarship, who are allowed to accept outside payment for their work.
Some NCAA tournament players have been wearing t-shirts that read "#NotNCAAProperty" in protest and support of the issue during March Madness. The protest has been organized by the National College Players Association (NCPA).
Rutgers guard Geo Baker, who has led the movement along with other athletes, said the NCAA is stripping the players of what makes them individuals.
"What the NCAA is doing is taking away our uniqueness and who we are as people," he said.
CBS has a multi-billion-dollar deal with the NCAA to broadcast March Madness. The NCAA makes roughly $1.1 billion in revenue each year, much of it from television rights.
Players like Michigan forward Isaiah Livers want their share. He spoke to ESPN about what they're hoping to accomplish last Saturday.
"I feel like a university or NCAA or conference can make so much money off one name. And the guy who's like, putting all the work and to get to that point gets nothing out of it," he said.
Some changes are coming: Last year, the NCAA Board of Governors proposed a plan to allow athletes to profit off their own image, but it argues it must maintain a distinction between college and professional sports — something it's hoping to preserve in the Supreme Court case. But Kessler said this case is about fairness.
"I don't think there's a fan out there who doesn't think that it would be okay if the coaches made a few million dollars less and these athletes could get things like graduate scholarships and anything else all other students can get," he said.
Depending on what the court decides, the ruling could be a slippery slope, opening the door to demands that college athletes get paid. That could have unforeseen consequences, hurting smaller schools and women's sports. In contrast, the big schools and moneymaking sports like football and men's basketball would benefit in recruiting and getting top talent.
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