Supreme Court rules against NCAA in dispute over compensation for student athletes

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday sided with former college athletes in a dispute over National Collegiate Athletic Association rules which limit certain forms of compensation.

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In a unanimous ruling issued Monday, justices said the NCAA could not enforce rules which bar colleges from giving student-athletes who play Division I basketball or football benefits related to their education. The ruling upheld a previous lower court ruling which found that NCAA rules limiting the education-related benefits schools may offer to student-athletes were unlawful.

In the court’s opinion, penned by Justice Neil Gorsuch, justices noted that they were tasked with looking at the lower court’s judgment from an antitrust standpoint. The case did not decide whether student-athletes can be paid salaries.

“Some will think the district court did not go far enough,” Gorsuch wrote. “By permitting colleges and universities to offer enhanced education-related benefits, its decision may encourage scholastic achievement and allow student-athletes a measure of compensation more consistent with the value they bring to their schools. Still, some will see this as a poor substitute for fuller relief.”

>> Read the full ruling issued by the Supreme Court

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.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Brent Kavanaugh noted that “the NCAA’s remaining compensation rules also raise serious questions under the antitrust laws.”

“This case involves only a narrow subset of the NCAA’s compensation rules – namely, the rules restricting the education-related benefits that student athletes may receive, such as post-eligibility scholarships at graduate or vocational schools,” Justice Brent Kavanaugh wrote in a concurring opinion filed Monday. “The rest of the NCAA’s compensation rules are not at issue here and therefore remain on the books.”

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 to be 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.