The case does not decide whether students can receive salaries. Instead, the ruling will help determine whether schools decide to offer athletes tens of thousands of dollars of these perks for things like tutoring, study abroad, and internships.
The High Court agreed with a group of former college athletes that the NCAA limits on the educational benefits that colleges can provide to athletes who play Division I basketball and football cannot be applied.
Judge Neil Gorsuch wrote for the court that the NCAA sought “immunity from the normal operation of antitrust laws,” which the court refused to grant.
Under current NCAA rules, students cannot be paid, and scholarships that colleges can offer are 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 complaint, including former West Virginia footballer Shawne Alston, argued that the NCAA’s rules on education-related pay were unfair and violated 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 cannot prevent schools from sweetening their offers to Division I basketball and football players with additional education-related benefits. But individual sports conferences can still set limits if they wish. An attorney for former athletes had said before the ruling that he believed that if his clients won, “many, many schools” would ultimately offer additional benefits.
The NCAA had argued that an athlete decision could blur the line between varsity and pro sports, with colleges trying to attract talented athletes by offering them extravagant educational benefits worth several thousand dollars. Even without a court ruling, however, changes appear to be underway in the way college athletes are paid. The NCAA is trying to change its rules to allow athletes to take advantage of their names, images and likenesses. This would allow athletes to earn money for things like sponsorship deals, online approval, and personal appearances. For some athletes, these amounts may eclipse the benefits of education.
The NFL, NBA and WNBA player associations had all urged judges to side with ex-athletes, as had the Biden administration.