In a unanimous verdict, the courtroom agrees with the athletes that the NCAA violated antitrust legal guidelines
By Amy Howe
on June 21, 2021
at 12:22 p.m.
The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a fundamental change in the relationship between universities and the athletes who play sports for those schools. In a statement from Judge Neil Gorsuch, the judges unanimously upheld a lower court ruling that the NCAA, the umbrella organization that regulates college sports, cannot restrict education-related benefits such as free laptops or paid postgraduate internships.
Monday’s ruling in the NCAA v Alston case ended a dispute filed seven years ago as a class action lawsuit against the NCAA and major sports conferences for Division I football and basketball athletes. The athletes alleged in their complaint that the NCAA’s eligibility and compensation restrictions violated federal antitrust laws by preventing athletes from receiving fair market compensation for their work. A federal district court in California partially agreed, ruling that the NCAA could limit non-educational benefits (such as cash salaries) but prohibited the NCAA from limiting educational benefits. After the U.S. 9th District Court of Appeals upheld the ruling, the NCAA and sports conferences went to the Supreme Court, which agreed to open the case late last year.
In a 35-page ruling, Gorsuch rejected the NCAA’s argument that the trial’s verdict would “micro-manage” the organization’s business. The district court, Gorsuch said, merely prohibited the NCAA from imposing restrictions on education-related benefits. And it did, Gorsuch added after concluding that “easing these restrictions would not blur the distinction between college and professional sports and thus undermine the demand for college sports” – a cornerstone of the NCAA’s argument . In addition, according to Gorsuch, the district court leaves the NCAA “considerable leeway” in deciding how an educational achievement should be defined.
In his last paragraph, Gorsuch outlined the dilemma in court. Some people may think the district court should have gone further, he suggested, while “others will think that the district court has gone too far in underestimating the welfare benefits associated with amateur sports.” But in the end, Gorsuch emphasized, the Supreme Court agreed with the 9th District that although “[t]he national debate on amateurism in college sports is important. ”It is not the job of the Supreme Court to resolve it. Instead, according to Gorsuch, the court had to examine whether the district court had correctly applied the principles of antitrust law to this dispute – which Gorsuch came to the conclusion.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh fully endorsed the court’s opinion but also drafted a separate consensus opinion questioning the legality of the remaining performance restrictions for college athletes. He made it clear that while these restrictions were not in court in this case, Monday’s ruling provided a framework for future challenges to the restrictions – and, he wrote, there are “serious questions” as to whether these rules “can exist “. Frame. Kavanaugh, an avid sports fan who coached his daughters’ basketball teams and tried unsuccessfully for the college basketball team while studying at Yale, acknowledged that college track and field “includes important traditions that have become part of the fabric of America.” But he warned the “NCAA is not above the law”.
This article was originally published by Howe on the Court.