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Supreme Court to Hear NCAA College Player Pay Case

The case could open up an avenue for students to be paid to play football and basketball

Kris LaGrange's picture
Dec 16, 2020

For the first time in three decades, the highest court in the United States will hear a case challenging the NCAA’s rule forbidding players from being compensated. Their decision could have wide ranging effects on the entire funding structure that colleges use to pay for their enormous and costly sports programs.

The lawsuit is an anti-trust case that says the NCAA has blurred the lines between student-athletes and professional athletes by removing caps on compensation that major college football and basketball players can receive. The case known as the Alston case is the first since 1984 when the court allowed changes to how college football could be broadcast. This decision has led to billion-dollar TV deals. Players however have been unable to receive any of that money. The case is being brought by former West Virginia football player Shawne Alston.

By bringing the case to the Supreme Court, the NCAA is hoping to overturn a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that upheld a lower court ruling barring the NCAA from capping education-related compensation and benefits for Division I football and basketball programs. The ruling required any compensation to athletes be tethered to education, meaning through things like scholarships instead of direct payments to the players.

According to the NCAA, the ruling effectively created a system where athletes could be given an “internship” and paid both unlimited amounts of money and the additional $5,600 that all players get while retaining their eligibility to play NCAA sports.

Under federal antitrust law, the Ninth Circuit reasoned, the NCAA and its member schools and conferences must behave in the same way that competing businesses are obligated to behave and as schools often behave. For instance, NCAA members compete for coaches, offering them multimillion-dollar salaries to lead a program and defeat rival programs. They also compete in the design and construction of state-of-the-art stadiums and training facilities, so they can better distinguish themselves in athlete recruitment. This is the type of activity one would expect of educational institutions that aggressively battle on so many dimensions, including in the pursuit of high school students, federal grants, alumni donations, media attention, faculty, and staff. Colleges are businesses, after all.

For years players have been fighting with the NCAA over compensation. While big universities bring in tens of millions of dollars from football and basketball programs and pay their coaches millions of dollars a season, players are often struggling to get by. Players are not even allowed to be compensated for the commercial use of the players' names, image, and likenesses. This has been a major issue since the NCAA releases a video game series each year that uses the players' likeness. Although this rule is set to change in 2021.

According to ESPN, this case could finally open the door for players to receive significant compensation and even allow different schools to pay players to attract them to their school.

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