Supreme Court rules that NCAA can no longer limit student-athletes' benefits

Photo of David Borges

Akok Akok can receive a computer from UConn without violating NCAA rules. Paige Bueckers can do a paid internship or even study abroad, if she so desires.

Student-athletes at UConn — and any NCAA school — will now be allowed to receive education-related benefits that have been available to other students for decades, thanks to a unanimous Supreme Court decision on Monday.

The Court agreed with a group of former college athletes that the NCAA can no longer limit benefits that student-athletes receive to cost-of-attendance scholarships and stipends.

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling highlights just how much the tide is turning against the NCAA and its unfair treatment of college athletes,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said in a statement. “The status quo on ‘amateurism’ is finally changing and the NCAA no longer has carte blanche to control athletes’ livelihoods and monopolize the market. This is the kind of justice, and basic rights, college athletes deserve.”

The ruling has nothing to do with whether student-athletes can be paid salaries or earn money off their names, images and likenesses. The NCAA is in the process of passing legislation that would allow athletes to profit off the latter and, in fact, athletes at UConn will be able to do so as of July 1.

“Hopefully,” Murphy continued, “the NCAA sees today’s ruling as a catalyst for change, but I’ll keep pressing ahead to allow athletes the unrestricted ability to make money off their talent and collectively bargain with their programs and the institution as a whole.”

Murphy, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has been a long been a vocal advocate of college sports’ reform. He and Rep. Lori Trahan wrote the College Athlete Economic Freedom Act, which grants college athletes the use of their name, image and likeness.

NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement: “Even though the decision does not directly address name, image and likeness, the NCAA remains committed to supporting NIL benefits for student-athletes. Additionally, we remain committed to working with Congress to chart a path forward, which is a point the Supreme Court expressly stated in its ruling.”

Monday’s ruling doesn’t mean every school will comply. Individual athletic conferences (Big East, Big Ten, Pac 12, etc.) can still set limits on what benefits student-athletes can receive. But it is highly unlikely that any of the major conferences would restrict such privileges to athletes, as it would hurt their respective schools’ abilities to recruit.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that the court declined to continue to grant the NCAA “immunity from the normal operation of the antitrust laws.”

In a concurring opinion, Justice Brett Kavanagh even dropped a UConn reference.

“To be sure, the NCAA and its member colleges maintain important traditions that have become part of the fabric of America - game days in Tuscaloosa and South Bend; the packed gyms in Storrs and Durham; the women’s and men’s lacrosse championships on Memorial Day weekend; track and field meets in Eugene; the spring softball and baseball World Series in Oklahoma City and Omaha; the list goes on,” Kavanagh wrote. “But those traditions alone cannot justify the NCAA’s decision to build a massive money-raising enterprise on the backs of student athletes who are not fairly compensated. Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with not agreeing to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate. And under ordinary principles of antitrust law, it is not evident why college sports should be any different.

“The NCAA is not above the law.”

david.borges@hearstmediact.com