A student basketball player warms up with the NCAA logo on the wall behind him. | Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Updated: 12/16/2020 01:02 PM EST
The Supreme Court will hear a landmark antitrust case against the NCAA that could upend the business model for college sports by allowing colleges to compensate student athletes.
The high court said Wednesday that it will hear appeals filed by the NCAA and one of its member conferences over a May decision that found the group’s limits on player compensation violate antitrust law.
In its petition to the justices, the NCAA accused the lower courts of “judicial micromangement” and said their rulings would fundamentally transform college sports by blurring “the traditional line between college and professional athletes.”
“We are pleased the U.S. Supreme Court will review the NCAA’s right to provide student-athletes with the educational benefits they need to succeed in school and beyond,” Donald Remy, the NCAA’s chief legal officer, said in a statement. “The NCAA and its members continue to believe that college campuses should be able to improve the student-athlete experience without facing never-ending litigation regarding these changes.”
One advocate for college athletes suggested, however, that the Supreme Court could rule even more favorably for players.
“This gives college athletes the chance to not only solidify the win in the lower courts, but the Supreme Court may decide the lower courts didn’t go far enough in allowing athlete compensation,” said Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA football player who now leads the National College Players Association advocacy group.
Background: The high court declined in August to pause the earlier court rulings while the NCAA’s Supreme Court petition was under review.
A group of current and former players challenged the NCAA rules that prohibit athletes from accepting money or other forms of compensation. Following a 2019 trial, a federal judge found the restrictions anti-competitive and said the NCAA must allow colleges to offer student athletes education-related benefits, such as graduate school scholarships, study abroad opportunities or computers for educational use.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed that decision earlier this year.
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Pending legislation: More than two dozen states have introduced or debated legislation that would allow athletes to profit from their personal brands. But the NCAA wants federal protection to quash those efforts and set its own standards for more than 1,200 schools.
In Congress, Democrats are setting out a much different framework for the future of college sports. Advertised as a “College Athletes Bill of Rights,” a Democratic outline of forthcoming legislation has proposed paying student athletes through revenue-sharing agreements with athletic associations, conferences and schools that make money off college sports. The proposal also would allow athletes to pitch products or services for their own profit.
A bill from Senate Commerce Chair Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) would instead fulfill much of the NCAA’s wishlist by overriding state laws and allowing the federal government to control rules on how college athletes might earn money from endorsement deals or signing autographs.
Wicker’s measure would allow athletes to earn money from their “name, image and likeness,” under a series of restrictions, and authorize the Federal Trade Commission to choose a private entity — which could include the NCAA — to develop and enforce those rules. The legislation would also shield schools, athletic conferences and the NCAA from liability to any federal and state laws relating to trade and competition.
Reps. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) and Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) have introduced similar legislation in the House. A related proposal from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has also won plaudits from the NCAA.
What’s next: The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case in the spring, likely in March or April. The justices will issue a decision before the current term ends in June.