Supreme Court sides with college athletes in NCAA dispute

The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously sided with a group of former college athletes, ruling that the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s tight limits on education-related compensation — things like computers and graduate scholarships — violates antitrust law.

The nation’s high court, in an opinion by Justice Neil Gorsuch, upheld lower court rulings that said the NCAA illegally limited schools on competing for talent by offering better education-related benefits, such as pay for tutoring and science equipment.

The court rejected the NCAA’s argument that offering compensation through education-related benefits would alienate fans who appreciate players’ amateur status.

The ruling means that the NCAA cannot prevent schools from offering compensation beyond tuition costs, such as scholarships for graduate school or study-abroad programs, for student athletes.

The compensation must be related to education, the Court ruled.
The compensation must be related to education, the Supreme Court ruled.
AP/Patrick Semansky

However, the compensation must be related to education. The NCAA’s rules that restrict athletes from being paid to play or for endorsing products were not in question before the court.

“Put simply, this suit involves admitted horizontal price fixing in a market where the defendants exercise monopoly control,” wrote Gorsuch, who was appointed by President Donald Trump.

Despite the somewhat narrow scope of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in concurrence to Monday’s opinion that the NCAA’s other rules restricting athlete compensation could also be illegal.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh said that the NCAA's practice of making billions of dollars from unpaid athletes may violate antitrust laws.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh said the NCAA’s practice of making billions of dollars from unpaid athletes may violate antitrust laws.
Alamy Stock Photo

“Everyone agrees that the NCAA can require student athletes to be enrolled students in good standing. But the NCAA’s business model of using unpaid student athletes to generate billions of dollars in revenue for the colleges raises serious questions under the antitrust laws,” Kavanaugh wrote.

“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,” he added. “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.”

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