Scholar-Athletes Rating In SCOTUS Determination Declaring that the NCAA is “Not Above the Regulation” | Franczek P.C.
Student athletes are making strides in their struggle for additional compensation in exchange for the benefits they offer the NCAA and its member institutions. On Monday, the US Supreme Court unanimously upheld a ruling that overturned part of the NCAA amateurism rules restricting educational compensation for student athletes. In the NCAA v Alston case, the athletes argued that the NCAA’s eligibility and compensation restrictions violated antitrust law by preventing them from receiving fair market compensation. The California District Court partially agreed and issued an injunction prohibiting the NCAA from prohibiting member schools from providing educational services to student athletes, but refused to impose other NCAA restrictions on athlete compensation. The Ninth Circuit upheld the injunction and the NCAA and sports conferences appealed. The Supreme Court decision once again sided with the athletes by allowing schools to provide educational services.
During this legal battle and in the media, the NCAA has argued repeatedly that rules of amateurism are necessary for the NCAA to function and differentiate itself from the professional leagues. In particular, the court’s decision was limited to the issue of educational performance, and the court did not determine whether the NCAA’s business rationale for “amateurism” would warrant other NCAA compensation restrictions since the student athletes did not seek a review of the lower court’s refusal to enforce these other restrictions . However, Judge Kavanaugh unequivocally signaled in a consistent statement that he believed other NCAA compensation restrictions were just as problematic from an antitrust perspective, stating, among other things, that “[n]Nowhere else in America can companies get away with not paying their workers a fair market price because their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market price. And according to the usual principles of antitrust law, it is not clear why university sports should be different. The NCAA is not above the law. “
From a labor and labor law perspective, Judge Kavanaugh’s explicit recognition that student-athletes are related to employees and provide “work” to NCAA member schools sparked the debate over whether the student-athlete relationship is governed by labor and labor law should certainly be rekindled, as the National Labor Relations Act Judge Kavanaugh went so far as to suggest that unanswered questions could be resolved through the passage of laws through Congress or possibly through collective bargaining. While previous efforts to obtain “salaried” status for student athletes have largely failed, the approval of Judge Kavanaugh could rekindle this debate if a full legislative solution is not found.
Given the ruling by the Supreme Court, legislative efforts at the federal and state levels are undoubtedly becoming more urgent. The Alston decision is narrow and does not overturn amateurism any further. As Judge Gorsuch noted in his majority opinion, the NCAA has “considerable leeway” in defining an educational benefit. However, many states have already passed laws that allow athletes in those states to earn money through sponsorship, endorsements, and social media for using their names, pictures, and likenesses (“NIL”). Some of these laws go into effect as early as July 1, 2021, including those in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and New Mexico. The NCAA has not yet agreed to extend similar rights to student athletes nationwide, and the growing “patchwork” of different state laws has increased the urgency for comprehensive state legislative resolution.
Certainly there is much more to come about the treatment and compensation of student athletes.