Supreme Court Sides with Athletes, Rejects NCAA Use of Compensation Limits

Mark Emmert
Getty Images/Maxx Wolfson

In a landmark decision on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that some National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) restrictions on student compensation violate federal antitrust laws.

The case, NCAA vs. Alston, pitted former college athletes against the nation’s premier collegiate athletic governing body. At issue was whether some of the NCAA’s restrictions on athlete compensation violated federal antitrust laws. It was an issue that the nine justices decided unanimously, 9-0, in favor of the former athletes.

Specifically, the court ruled that the NCAA’s restrictions on non-cash payments related to education – such as computers and science equipment – are anti-competitive under the Sherman Antitrust Act.

According to Reuters:

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year found the NCAA’s rules to be anticompetitive, upholding a 2019 injunction imposed by California-based U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken that allowed education-related compensation.

Wilken set new rules that the NCAA said were arbitrary and could pave the way to future challenges to other policies set by the organization.

College athletes who filed lawsuits in 2014 and 2015 – consolidated into a single case in California federal court – argued that the NCAA’s compensation limits represent a form of unlawful restraint of trade at a time when the leading intercollegiate conferences are amassing billions of dollars in revenue.

While Monday’s ruling is limited in scope, given that it only applies to non-cash, education-related benefits, the decision could pave the way for additional legal challenges to NCAA restrictions.

The case is NCAA v. Alston, No. 20-512 in the Supreme Court of the United States.

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