NAICU Washington Update

Supreme Court Rules Against NCAA in Antitrust Case

June 25, 2021

In a highly anticipated decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of student athletes who challenged National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) limits on providing education-related benefits to college athletes. The Court’s ruling in NCAA v. Alston unanimously upheld an appellate court’s finding that NCAA limits on education-related benefits violate federal antitrust law.

According to the Court, “this suit involves admitted horizontal price fixing in a market where the defendants exercise monopoly control.” Rejecting the NCAA’s argument that the special nature of college athletics should exempt the conference from statutory coverage, the Supreme Court found that the lower courts properly applied antitrust principles to the NCAA’s rules. The ruling could open the door to additional challenges to other NCAA practices, including limitations on payments related to athletic performance or endorsement deals, which were not addressed in the appeal but were attacked in a separate concurring opinion written by Justice Kavanaugh. 

Meanwhile, the NCAA has been grappling with other policies regarding athletic compensation, including state laws and federal legislative proposals intended to allow student athletes to benefit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL). “Even though the decision does not directly address name, image and likeness, the NCAA remains committed to supporting NIL benefits for student-athletes,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert in a statement. “Additionally, we remain committed to working with Congress to chart a path forward, which is a point the Supreme Court expressly stated in its ruling.”

Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the NCAA must allow educational benefits for student athletes. The appellate court upheld a district court’s decision that allowed colleges and universities to offer education-related benefits such as graduate school scholarships, study abroad opportunities, or computers for educational use to Division I basketball players and Football Bowl Subdivision football players.

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