The Supreme Court’s NCAA ruling, explained
This particular decision clearing the way for some education-related payments may not lead to massive contracts for Division 1 recruits to major sports, but it is a huge step toward paying talented young athletes for their work, something the NCAA has been fighting for years.
A unanimous Supreme Court ruled the NCAA rules amounted to price fixing in its first look at college sports since the 1980s, when it also ruled against the NCAA and opened the floodgates for colleges to make a mint off television rights.
While the ruling was focused on the specifics of the suit, Justice Brett Kavanaugh seemed open to a much broader change in a concurring opinion.
Money quote: “Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate,” Kavanaugh wrote. “And under ordinary principles of antitrust law, it is not evident why college sports should be any different. The NCAA is not above the law.”
Perhaps more consequential for athletes will be a raft of 19 state laws going into effect in coming years that will allow college athletes to profit from their names and likenesses.
Congress may override those state laws and set a national standard. The NCAA wants to work with lawmakers and is already planning its own rules to allow students athletes to make money from endorsements on social media and in other ways.
The player at the heart of this. The Supreme Court decision Monday was narrowly tailored around a case brought by a former West Virginia running back, Shawne Alston and others.
Not a household name, Alston helped the Mountaineers win an Orange Bowl, but never made it in the NFL. His battle against how the NCAA treats athletes has carried on for a decade.
Completely unfair. That doesn’t change the fact that top college coaches are making millions each year while top college athletes, technically amateurs, aren’t making anything beyond access to their education and the ability to play college sports. That seems like an increasingly unfair trade given the amounts we’re talking about.
A series of recent lawsuits. Alston also took part in the most notable, which pitted former UCLA star Ed O’Bannon against the NCAA after his picture was used to sell a video game.
Bipartisan backing. That puts Congress on deadline to pass something before its August break if it doesn’t want student athletes in some states making money off limits to students in other states.
- Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s “Fairness in Collegiate Athletics Act” called for the NCAA to implement rules for college athletes to be compensated by third parties for their names, images and likenesses by June 30, 2021.
- Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, an Ohio Republican and a former NFL player, along with Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat, also introduced bipartisan legislation aiming to compensate college athletes.
- New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat, also led legislation for athlete compensation with “College Athletes Bill of Rights.”
- And in February, Democrats Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Rep. Lori Trahan of Massachusetts announced the The College Athlete Economic Freedom Act.
Amateurs vs. poseurs. This win for college athletes who feel exploited comes after the other major college sports and equality development of recent years — the revelation, a year before the pandemic shut everything down, of the SAT cheating and college admission scandal in which wealthy students posed as athletes for less mainstream sports and coaches at elite schools were paid off.
Who gets in where, and how, and what they get for it is not a question that’s going away as we come to terms with the unequal playing field for American kids.
College sports and the Olympics. We’ll all be thinking very much about high-level amateur athletes this summer during the Olympics, which are set to kick off in Japan on July 23, a year late. A large portion of the athletes, few of whom compete in revenue-generating sports, will have an affiliation with an American college athletic program. These are the types of non-revenue programs US schools are cutting.
Pros of yore. There’s a longer arc to this conversation, too. I was, coincidentally, in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, over the weekend.