The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Wednesday in NCAA v. Alston, a case that could have an immense impact on the future of college sports by redefining “amateurism,” which would lift strict limits on compensation to student-athletes, forcing schools to compete for top recruits by offering more than just scholarships.
Lower courts have sided with Alston, a former West Virginia running back, who argued it was illegal for colleges and universities to restrict players from securing proper compensation.
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Alston, schools would be allowed to reimburse expenses for academic-related items such as computers and science equipment.
Schools would also no longer be prohibited from offering student-athletes internships after their eligibility expires.
Although these are relatively minor, incremental changes, the NCAA has argued that rewards such as internships have been used as a “thinly disguised vehicle for funneling” student-athletes “professional salaries,” and that “allowing pay-for-play would ‘significantly'” affect the demand for college sports.
Prior to NCAA v. Alston, which was initially filed in March 2014, the last case involving the National Collegiate Athletic Association to make it to the Supreme Court was NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, which was heard in 1984. The NCAA lost that case, but the court ruled that the NCAA needed “ample latitude” to establish restrictive policies due to its “critical role in the maintenance of a revered tradition of amateurism in college sports.” In the majority opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that “In order to preserve the character and quality of the ‘product,’ athletes must not be paid.” In March 2019, California federal district judge Claudia Wilken ruled in Alston’s favor, declaring the NCAA’s model violates antitrust law. Last 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the Wilken opinion. It is important to note that Wednesday’s case is not directly linked to recent congressional legislation related to the dispute over compensation generated from a college athlete’s name, image and likeness (NIL). NCAA v. Alston will determine how schools can compensate their student-athletes, whereas NIL reform aims to allow student-athletes to be paid by outside, third-party companies.
What To Watch For:
Wednesday’s hearing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m and last one hour. Due to the pandemic, the justices will convene via teleconference. It will likely be several months before the Supreme Court announces whether it has reversed, affirmed, or vacated the Ninth Circuit’s ruling.
A study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research last September found that less than 7% of the NCAA’s revenue finds its way to football and men’s basketball players through scholarships and living stipends. The study estimates that if men’s basketball programs in the country’s top conferences split 50% of revenue equally, each player would earn nearly $500,000 annually. According to the study, the NCAA model “effectively transfers resources away from students who are more likely to be black and more likely to come from poor neighborhoods towards students who are more likely to be white and come from higher-income neighborhoods.”
$8.5 billion. That’s the annual revenue for the top NCAA Division 1 schools in recent years, with 58% percent of that revenue coming directly from men’s football and men’s basketball programs, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Democratic Senators Introduce ‘College Athletes Bill Of Rights’ That Would Overhaul NCAA Athletics (Forbes)
NCAA Athletes Could Make $2 Million A Year If Paid Equitably, Study Suggests (Forbes)
NCAA Heads to Supreme Court With Amateurism at Stake in Alston Case (Sportico)