Supreme Court to Rule on Student-athlete Compensation by June 2020

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case to see if college athletes could have limits placed on non-cash payments made to students who compete in the Big Ten, Southeastern, Atlantic Coast, Big 12 and Pac-12 conferences. The case coming from the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal maintains that the NCAA’s policy is anticompetitive under the Sherman Act. Lawyers for the students involved in the lawsuit contend that the NCAA's compensation levels result in unlawful restraint of trade.

The Ashton Case

Called the Alston case, the case which consolidates many similar cases that lawyers initially filed in 2014 and 2015 revolves around a West Virginia football player. A lower court judge found that the NCAA was guilty of antitrust violations when it stated that colleges could only give students room, board and the cost of their education. The case maintained that since all the top schools cost about the same amount to attend, the NCAA placed an unfair cap on student-athletes' earnings. The ruling stops short of ordering schools from paying players to play.

Students Can Get Education-related Compensation

The lower-court decision allows schools to compete by offering students non-cash benefits that they may find useful in their education, like computers, science equipment and other equipment designed to help students learn better. In upholding the lower court’s decision, Judge Mark Smith of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit wrote,” The treatment of Student-Athletes is not the result of free-market competition. To the contrary, it is the result of a cartel of buyers acting in concert to artificially depress the price that sellers could otherwise receive for their services. Our antitrust laws were originally meant to prohibit exactly this sort of distortion.”

What Does the NCAA Maintain?

Donald M. Remy, who is the NCAA chief legal officer, contends that the Supreme Court’s ruling, in this case, will affect many self-governed joint ventures operate. Furthermore, the NCAA maintains that providing everything students needed for their education stops them from being part of their university community, which they argue is part of the college learning process. The NCAA maintains that the current system fosters competition between amateur athletic teams and should be exempt from antitrust lawsuits. The group also argues that further compensating student-athletes blurs the line between amateur and professionals. They also maintain that they would lose many fans who love college sports because the athletes are playing for the love of the sport instead of a paycheck. Remy claims that students could get paid internships that would equate to being paid to play under the circuit court's ruling, which would blur the lines between amateur and professional athletes.

2020 NCAA Compensation Rule Changes

New NCAA rules have already gone into effect, allowing student-athletes to receive pay for previously prohibited things. For example, student-athletes can now receive compensation for endorsing products on their social media accounts, endorsing products with their name or likeness on them and get paid to make personal appearances.

Congress Tries to Act on Student-athlete Compensation

The NCAA says that they would like to see Congress pass a law allowing them to apply uniform rules across the country. They maintain that rules set by individual states create an unequal playing field. Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker has introduced the Collegiate Athlete and Compensation Rights Act. If passed, this law would prohibit student-athletes of their families from receiving compensation for the use of the athlete’s name, likeness or image. It would require the Federal Trade Commission to oversee a program to ensure students do not receive compensation. The Federal Trade Commission would choose a private entity to establish the rules under which student-athletes could receive pay if an entity uses their names, likenesses, and images.

The Supreme Court is likely to hear arguments in March or April, and they are likely to announce a decision before they recess in June. If the Supreme Court rules that the students have the right to receive further compensation, the way that the public views college sports could be changed forever. The students, however, maintain that they have the right to be compensated when they are making millions for their schools.

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