US Supreme Court opposes limits on benefits to student-athletes in NCAA case
- The Supreme Court said NCAA cannot enforce limits on education-related benefits
- Under NCAA's prevailing rules, students cannot be paid
- The court called the NCAA an effective monopoly
In a unanimous decision, the US Supreme Court ruled in favour of student-athletes, saying National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), America's top university athletics body, cannot enforce limits on education-related benefits for athletes.
While college sports generated $18.9bn (£13.6bn) in 2019, according to the NCAA, but currently, under NCAA's prevailing rules, students cannot be paid, and scholarship money is capped at the cost of attendance.
While the Supreme Court did not weigh in on whether student-athletes should be able to cash in completely on their performances on football fields and basketball courts, it was made clear that the NCAA's claim that its strict ban on their earning any money, to retain "amateur" status, was important to the business was unacceptable.
The court called the NCAA an effective monopoly in its control over the lucrative industry of college sports.
"Put simply, this suit involves admitted horizontal price fixing in a market where the defendants exercise monopoly control," wrote Justice Neil Gorsuch in the opinion.
"No one disputes that the NCAA's restrictions in fact decrease the compensation that student-athletes receive compared to what a competitive market would yield."
The long-brewing case, NCAA vs. Alston et al, focused on whether the student-athletes could receive extra education-related benefits from their sports performances, like additional scholarship payments.
It did not address the hottest topic of college sports, whether the athletes should benefit from their personal images, like sales of shirts with their names -- which the universities and the NCAA profit from.
But the court made clear it did not see any justification for such restrictions, and said the NCAA could not prove that athletes keeping their amateur status was important to what Gorsuch called its "massive business."
"Those who run this enterprise profit in a different way than the student-athletes whose activities they oversee," he said.
"The president of the NCAA earns nearly $4 million per year. Commissioners of the top conferences take home between $2 to $5 million... And annual salaries for top Division I college football coaches approach $11 million."
While Gorsuch stressed the narrow application of the decision to the case at hand, the ruling appeared to open the gate for a broader challenge to the NCAA's control on how student-athletes can earn money, or share in the profits the NCAA and universities rake in.
"The NCAA's business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America," he said.
"All of the restaurants in a region cannot come together to cut cooks' wages on the theory that 'customers prefer' to eat food from low-paid cooks."