NCAA student athletes are entitled to education-related benefits, such as paid post-graduate internships, scholarships for graduate school, tutors, laptops, science equipment, musical instruments, and annual awards for academic achievement up to $5,980. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the opinion for the unanimous Supreme Court ruling, holding that the now-former NCAA prohibition for such things violated antitrust laws.
NCAA v. Alston began seven years ago as a class action against the NCAA brought by Shawn Alston and Justine Hartman as representatives for a class of former men’s and women’s college football and basketball players. They alleged that the NCAA’s limitation on the types and amounts of compensation student-athletes can receive violates Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act which prohibits the unreasonable restriction on competition among the states. The District Court and Ninth Circuit both resolved that there was an antitrust violation when applying the applicable “rule of reason” test and the Supreme Court did not depart from those decisions.
Included with the June 21 Alston ruling was Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion, which could be indicative of how SCOTUS might interpret any future challenges to the NCAA’s rules. For example, the Alston case did not pose the question as to whether athletes can receive cash payments for the use of their names, images, or likenesses. However, Justice Kavanaugh identifies what he believes might be antitrust issues with other NCAA rules that “generally restrict student athletes from receiving compensation or benefits from their colleges for playing sports…and receiving money from endorsement deals and the like.” Some State lawmakers agree. Over the next few weeks state laws will take effect in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Texas that will allow athletes to make endorsements and monetize their social media presence.
The full impact of the Alston case remains to be seen, but it seems apparent from statements immediately cast by various college coaches and program directors that there are likely to be substantive changes in how student athletes are recruited and how program budgets are managed. For example, to be competitive, athlete recruitment packages will need to include education-related benefits, grant-in-aid packages, and awards for academic achievement up to the $5,980 annual cap.
Further, and immediately following the Alston ruling, as a show of cooperation NCAA President Mark Emmert announced his commitment to working with Congress to implement a new framework. The NCAA Division I Council has now, on June 28th, voted to support an interim policy that would permit college athletes to profit from the use of their names, images, and likenesses pending the adoption of a federal law or a new NCAA rule being enacted. The Division I Board of Directors are now due to meet to review and vote on the recommendation.