SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) -- Ruling on an appeal of a decision by the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday said the NCAA can't enforce certain rules limiting the education-related benefits — things like computers and graduate scholarships — that colleges offer athletes.
The case doesn't decide whether students can be paid salaries. California already has a law on the books -- Fair Play to Pay Act -- allowing college athletes in the state to earn compensation for the use of their likeness, sign endorsement deals and hire agents to represent them.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote: "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. Those enormous sums of money flow to seemingly 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."
"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. 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."
Monday's ruling will help determine whether schools decide to offer athletes tens of thousands of dollars in those benefits for things including tutoring, study abroad and internships.
The high court agreed with a group of former college athletes that NCAA limits on the education-related benefits that colleges can offer athletes who play Division I basketball and football can't be enforced.
Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the court that the NCAA sought "immunity from the normal operation of the antitrust laws," which the court declined to grant.
Dan Polden, former dean of Santa Clara University School of Law, and an expert on anti-trust and employment issues said the NCAA's "basic foundation has been eroded".
"The business model for the NCAA, according to the Supreme Court, has to radically change. It has to recognize that they are a billion dollar industry. That student-athletes generate an incredible amount of those revenues, literally on their backs and jerseys, and what have you. And yet, the NCAA severely restricts the financial support for student athletes. So, I think that the handwriting very much is on the wall for the NCAA," Polden told KPIX 5.
Professor Shaun Fletcher, at San Jose State University, who also played football at SJSU, said Monday's ruling is a "harbinger of what's to come".
"It completely opens Pandora's Box for many of these student athletes to go and get what their market value is worth," said Fletcher. "For those who have been exploited for so long to now have more leverage and power to really take back what they're worth, and what their market value is, is not unlike any other free trade system in these United States of America."
Under current NCAA rules, students cannot be paid, and the scholarship money colleges can offer is capped at the cost of attending the school. The NCAA had defended its rules as necessary to preserve the amateur nature of college sports.
But the former athletes who brought the case, including former West Virginia football player Shawne Alston, argued that the NCAA's rules on education-related compensation were unfair and violate federal antitrust law designed to promote competition. The Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling barring the NCAA from enforcing those rules.
As a result of the ruling, the NCAA itself can't bar schools from sweetening their offers to Division I basketball and football players with additional education-related benefits. But individual athletic conferences can still set limits if they choose. A lawyer for the former athletes had said before the ruling that he believed that if his clients won, "very many schools" would ultimately offer additional benefits.
The NCAA had argued that a ruling for the athletes could lead to a blurring of the line between college and professional sports, with colleges trying to lure talented athletes by offering over-the-top education benefits worth thousands of dollars. Even without the court's ruling, however, changes seem on the way for how college athletes are compensated. The NCAA is trying to amend its rules to allow athletes to profit from their names, images and likenesses. That would allow athletes to earn money for things like sponsorship deals, online endorsement and personal appearances. For some athletes, those amounts could dwarf any education-related benefits.
The players associations of the NFL, the NBA and the WNBA had all urged the justices to side with the ex-athletes, as did the Biden administration.
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