U.S. Supreme Court Hears NCAA Athlete Compensation Case

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments from the National Collegiate Athletic Associated in a case deciding whether the organization can cap education-related benefits paid to college athletes.

The case comes amid a broader debate over student athletes’ compensation and criticisms of the NCAA’s compensation policies for its players. Seeking to pressure the organization to reform its policies, some players have begun using the hashtag #NotNCAAProperty.

The NCAA has fought to protect the “amateur” quality of its games for years, though has gradually allowed larger payments to some athletes, including full scholarships since 2015. The NCAA was in the process of reforming its policies to allow athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness, until the effort was delayed after Justice Department criticism earlier this year.

The case is the first one related to the NCAA to make it to the Supreme Court since 1984’s case, NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, in which the justices rejected the organization’s plan for televised football games.

The case being argued, Alston v. NCAA, stems from claims made by Shawne Alston, a running back for the West Virginia Mountaineers, and other student athletes. The athletes argue that the NCAA’s restrictions on education-related benefits — items such as computers, science equipment and musical instruments — violates federal antitrust law.

Since 2015, NCAA policies have allowed Division I athletes to receive grants up to the full cost of attendance of their institution that’s determined by the school’s financial aid office, as well as some payments above that amount, including cash stipends and awards.

The students allege that the NCAA is acting hypocritically, earning large sums of money while habitually underpaying athletes in the name of “amateurism.” They argue the NCAA’s restrictions on education-related payments are “cost-cutting measures, plain and simple.”

A federal judge in California ruled in favor of the athletes and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision in May. The 9th Circuit said the NCAA was entitled to protect the amateurism of the games, but defined that protection as “not paying student-athletes unlimited payments unrelated to education.”

The 9th Circuit also acknowledged that, while the Supreme Court in the 1984 Board of Regents case adopted a much stricter definition which defined amateurism as excluding all payments for student athletes, it is fair to drop the “Not One Penny standard” because of the “considerable evidence that college sports have retained their distinctive popularity despite an increase in permissible forms of the above-COA compensation and benefits.”

In its appeal of that decision, the NCAA, represented by former U.S. solicitor general Seth Waxman, argued that the 9th Circuit’s ruling “will fundamentally transform the century-old institution of NCAA sports, blurring the traditional line between college and professional athletes.” Waxman also acknowledged the larger public debate about athlete compensation, but said the court had “made itself a tool of one viewpoint in the debate.”

The NCAA is also arguing that removing the cap on education-related benefits will essentially open the door to any compensation that can be inappropriately labeled as educational.

“By permitting such payments for student-athletes’ play, the decision will transform student-athletes into professionals, eliminating the procompetitive distinction between college and professional sports,” Waxman wrote. “Consumers will likely come to view NCAA athletics as just another form of minor-league sports.”

The case will be argued over the phone as the Supreme Court building remains closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Arguments will begin at 10 A.M. ET and be streamed live tot he public. The Supreme Court’s decision is expected to be made over the summer.

Editors Note: Story “SCOTUS-NCAA-COMPENSATION” corrected on 31.03.2021 09:00 had a typographic error in the headline. This is a corrected repeat.

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