What the Supreme Court NCAA Ruling Means for Student Athlete Compensation

Student athletes got a big win on Monday, June 21, 2021, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA, cannot limit education-related benefits like graduate scholarships, computers, paid internships, and more.

The Ruling

Writing for the court, Justice Neil Gorsuch said, “The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order in Alston, holding that the NCAA could no longer enforce rules restricting certain education-related benefits that its member institutions could offer to student-athletes.” The ruling unanimously upheld the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Alston in 2020 that found the NCAA violated American antitrust law.

Late last year, I wrote that the Supreme Court could institute “name, image, and likeness,” or NIL, policy changes to justly compensate college athletes for their talents, skills, services, and marketability.

I thought the June 21 ruling would bring student athletes closer to some form of compensation, but I underestimated its importance.

Kavanaugh Paves the Way for NIL

The Supreme Court ruling does not directly address NIL. But if read into a separate opinion penned by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, NIL could be on the horizon.

Here are three highlights:

  • Kavanaugh says the NCAA’s “remaining compensation rules” raise serious questions.
  • He argues that the NCAA and colleges are suppressing student athlete pay and that student athletes are the only ones left out of the billions of dollars in revenue.
  • Writing that “nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing to not pay their workers a fair market rate,” he concludes that, “the NCAA is not above the law.”

The Impact of July 1

Where does the June 21 ruling leave the NCAA and student athlete compensation? According to Alicia Jessop, associate professor at Pepperdine University with a focus on sports and law, schools are free to give unlimited education-related benefits.

Jessop also thinks it is likely that state legislatures will draft or speed-up implementation of NIL laws, as well as the NCAA governing body.

But the biggest issue impacting the NCAA is today, July 1. Eight states are adding NIL provisions into law starting today, July 1, 2021, according to the New York Times. Without input from Congress on federal legislation and the June 21 Supreme Court ruling, the NCAA implemented some emergency measures to address college athlete compensation.

NCAA Caves (A Little Bit)

Yesterday, the NCAA approved monetary benefits for college athletes from autograph signings, personal appearances, endorsements and social media. The NCAA and colleges will also use “a mixture of state laws and NCAA guidelines […] to provide a rough outline for what kind of money-making ventures will be allowed. . .”

I wrote about several high-profile congressional bills on student athlete compensation and NIL in the spring. Many of the federal proposals are a mixed bag and none have moved since being introduced at Capitol Hill. Congress was probably waiting for the Supreme Court ruling before moving ahead with any legislation and it is anyone’s bet about which bill will be the frontrunner.

The good news from all of this is college athletes are already set to earn money. Haley and Hanna Cavinder from the Fresno State University women’s basketball team and Ohio State lacrosse player Mitchell Pehlke are some of the many college athletes who can now be sponsored because of their influential social media presence.

The Cavinders and Phelke were featured in a Fox News article this week, outlining how popular college athletes are using their social media following for sponsorships and deals. With the Supreme Court ruling and yesterday’s rule change by the NCAA, these sponsorships are nor legal.

College athletes of all levels deserve fair access to the financial benefits they bring to their colleges regardless of where their athletic potential takes them.

Whether these changes come from a court decision or Congress is irrelevant. The most important thing to recognize is that it is time to give college athletes their fair stake in the billions flowing through college sports.

The Supreme Court decision and the NCAA caving are small steps in the right direction.

Evan Harris is the media relations and outreach manager for PRI.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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