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Supreme Court Hands Win to Student Athletes

June 22, 2021 by Dan McCue
The Supreme Court in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

In a unanimous decision Monday, the justices held the NCAA can’t enforce rules limiting education-related benefits — like computers and paid internships — that colleges offer to student athletes.

The case doesn’t decide whether students can be paid salaries. Instead, the ruling will help determine whether schools decide to offer athletes thousands of dollars in benefits for things including tutoring, study abroad programs and graduate scholarships.

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 are unenforceable.

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.

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 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 violated federal antitrust law designed to promote competition. The Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling barring the NCAA from enforcing those rules.

The NCAA 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.

The NCAA is set to consider on Tuesday how to proceed with reforming rules that currently prohibit college athletes from earning money off their fame.

NCAA President Mark Emmert has urged membership to forward on a proposal that has been stalled for months and said he would take executive action if it remained stuck.

Six Division I conferences, including the SEC, ACC and Pac-12, have put forth an alternative stopgap measure that cuts out the NCAA and allows athletes to be compensated for name, image and likeness before a federal law is passed.

The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in an athlete compensation case not related to NIL makes finding an NIL solution more complicated for the NCAA, Emmert said Monday.

The Supreme Court loss means the NCAA is still exposed to further legal attacks, but Emmert insisted it is the association’s responsibility to put forth a solution.

“And I believe that the rest of the membership will agree,” Emmert told The Associated Press. ” “Whether that means we’re going to pass or can pass a full new set of rules or do something temporarily in the meantime is less important to me than the fact that we’re going to be able to provide students with an opportunity to pursue NIL opportunities.”

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