Supreme Court Hears Case Involving NCAA Rules Against Compensating Student-Athletes
Should NCAA student-athletes be allowed to earn income beyond what they receive from athletic scholarships?
by SCOTUS WATCH | 4.5.21
What’s the story?
- The Supreme Court heard arguments last week in a case challenging the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) rules that prohibit compensation of student-athletes beyond their athletic scholarships, which cover tuition and the cost-of-attendance and may include a stipend.
- The hearing occurred just days before the conclusion of the NCAA’s “March Madness” basketball tournaments and comes amid a broader push for the relaxation of rules to allow NCAA athletes to earn income by using their name, image, and likeness.
- Known as NCAA v. Alston, the case involves a class-action lawsuit that alleges the NCAA’s rules against compensating college athletes violates federal antitrust law. The NCAA contends that allowing student-athletes to be paid and the resulting economic competition between colleges would “destroy consumer demand for college sports.”
- When the case was heard at the district court level, the federal judge ruled that the NCAA could prohibit compensation related to athletics, such as a salary, but barred the NCAA from limiting benefits that are related to education, such as a paid post-graduate internship. That decision was upheld by the Ninth Circuit on appeal. The justices asked a number of questions that illustrate the complexities of the issue:
- Chief Justice John Roberts asked about NCAA rules that allow colleges and universities to pay for an insurance policy to protect their athletes and compensate them if they receive an injury that derails their professional sports careers and whether they constitute “pay for play” because it incentivizes the student-athlete to delay going pro.
- Justice Clarence Thomas noted that it was “odd” that college coaches’ salaries are as high as they are despite the NCAA’s focus on amateurism. (In most states, the highest-paid public employee is a head football or basketball coach at one of the flagship public universities.)
- Justice Stephen Breyer called it a “tough case” because college sports “are not an ordinary product” and it’s “only partly economic.” He also expressed concerns about “judges getting into the business of deciding how amateur sports should be run.”
- Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked whether allowing colleges and universities to pay additional “education-related benefits” to be broadly interpreted in a way that would open the floodgates for automatic payments to student-athletes in what becomes more like a regular labor market.
- A decision in the case will likely be issued by this summer.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: SneakinDeacon via Flickr / Creative Commons)
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