WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court decided unanimously Monday that the NCAA can't enforce rules limiting education-related benefits – like computers and paid internships – that colleges offer to student athletes.
The case doesn't decide whether students can be paid salaries. Instead, the ruling will help determine whether schools decide to offer athletes tens of thousands of dollars in those benefits for things including tutoring, study abroad programs and graduate scholarships.
The high court agreed with a group of former college athletes that NCAA limits on the education-related benefits that colleges can offer athletes who play Division I basketball and football are unenforceable.
Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the court that the NCAA sought “immunity from the normal operation of the antitrust laws,” which the court declined to grant.
Under current NCAA rules, students cannot be paid, and the scholarship money colleges can offer is capped at the cost of attending the school. The NCAA had defended its rules as necessary to preserve the amateur nature of college sports.
But the former athletes who brought the case, including former West Virginia football player Shawne Alston, argued that the NCAA's rules on education-related compensation were unfair and violate federal antitrust law designed to promote competition. The Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling barring the NCAA from enforcing those rules.
As a result of the ruling, the NCAA itself can't bar schools from sweetening their offers to Division I basketball and football players with additional education-related benefits. But individual athletic conferences can still set limits if they choose.
“It is our hope that this victory in the battle for college athletes' rights will carry on a wave of justice uplifting further aspects of athlete compensation,” Steve Berman, an attorney for the former college athletes, said in a statement following the ruling. “This is the fair treatment college athletes deserve.”
The players associations of the NFL, the NBA and the WNBA urged the justices to side with the ex-athletes, as did the Biden administration.
Also, six Division I conferences, including the SEC, ACC and Pac-12, are urging the NCAA to implement a stopgap measure that would allow college athletes to earn money off their fame before a federal law is passed.
In a letter obtained by The Associated Press and sent to the head of the Division I Council, the conference commissioners recommended the council refrain from adopting the proposed reforms to the NCAA's name, image and likeness compensation rules. The council is scheduled to meet today and Wednesday.
The letter was first reported on by ESPN.
NCAA President Mark Emmert also sent a memo to the association's member schools Friday, pushing for an NIL solution before the end of the month when six state laws go into effect. In that memo obtained by AP, Emmert said if membership did not act on an NIL proposal, he was prepared to take executive action.
The NCAA has asked Congress for a federal NIL law that would preempt state laws and help provide a uniform standard for its more than 1,100 member schools. But lawmakers in Washington are not close to passing a bill.
The six conferences said the NCAA's proposal would be vulnerable to legal challenges and would be invalid in states with their own NIL laws. The commissioners for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Sun Belt Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference also signed the letter to Penn athletic director Grace Calhoun, who chairs the Division I Council.
They also sent a proposed alternative to the NCAA's current NIL proposal that would go into effect July 1 if adopted. That proposal was obtained by the AP.
The proposal would allow athletes in states with NIL laws to follow those laws when they go into effect. Schools in states without NIL laws would adopt their own policies that would permit athletes to be paid by third parties – but not by boosters – for things such as endorsements, personal appearances and sponsored social media posts.