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Supreme Court unanimously rules against NCAA over benefits for student-athletes

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Ruling signals potential end of amateurism in college sports

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

“The NCAA is not above the law.”

Those words from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion are stern. They signal a decisive decision from the nation’s highest court against the NCAA in this case. But that may not be all. Today’s ruling could signal the end of the structure of college sports.

The case ruled on today centered around just one athlete — former West Virginia football player Shawne Alston. He filed suit in 2014 arguing that the NCAA’s restrictions on compensation for student-athletes was a violation of antitrust laws. This suit wasn’t arguing for pay for these players but more educational items like supplies, additional programs, internships, etc.

In 2019, a lower court ruled in Alston’s favor saying the schools should be allowed to offer them. But the NCAA continued to push back against it arguing those benefits were essentially professional salaries for the athletes. Their legal team felt those decisions should be left up to the NCAA themselves.

Now, that’s gone.

A 9-0 unanimous decision from the Supreme Court found those limits of what schools can provide their student-athletes are a violation of antitrust laws, meaning it’s illegal and the doors are now open for those educational benefits.

But the words from Justice Kavanaugh go further and appear to invite further lawsuits challenging the NCAA’s power structure.

In the excerpt above, Kavanaugh points to the billions of dollars generated on college sports each year. Those lead to massive salaries for coaches, conference commissioners and NCAA executives and lavish new training facilities all across the country. But the athletes see little to none of it.

And now the nation’s highest court has opened the door for them to challenge that structure.

As states pass name-image-likeness laws that allow athletes to profit on themselves, essentially circumventing the NCAA’s authority, and the U.S. Supreme Court points to the injustices of the system, the fabric of amateurism in the college ranks is tearing at the seams. But the NCAA isn’t stopping the fight yet.

“Even though the decision does not directly address name, image and likeness, the NCAA remains committed to supporting NIL benefits for student-athletes,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement following the ruling. “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.”

What’s next is clear. More lawsuits will be coming, but the NCAA appears at least willing to fight them. The question becomes what argument will they have left to stand on.