WASHINGTON, D.C. (NBC) – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the NCAA cannot stop colleges and universities from giving education-related benefits to lure student-athletes. It undercuts the NCAA’s efforts to prevent outright payment to student-athletes, a policy now under attack in statehouses around the country.
This case doesn’t decide the contentious issue of whether college athletes can be paid salaries but proponents hope it could pave the way to those athletes benefiting from all that cash college sports programs can bring in.
It’s a blow to the organization that had hoped the ruling would be a firewall in the larger fight overcompensating college athletes.
“It’s not a firewall, it’s burning down the system in favor of the athletes,” said Jeffrey Kessler, who represents plaintiff Martin Jenkins, a former Clemson University football player.
Jenkins said, “You put a lot on our shoulders, we do a lot for the schools, so being able to be compensated in any fashion and in any way is an absolute win.”
The high court unanimously found that the NCAA violated antitrust laws when it limited what students could receive for things like musical instruments, postgraduate scholarships and paid internships.
The sports governing body argued it doesn’t want to blur the line with professional sports and that fans appreciate the amateur, unpaid nature of college competition.
But the court dismissed that idea with Justice Brett Kavanaugh writing, “The NCAA’s business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America.”
Athletes hope this is a step toward being able to share in the riches reaped by their schools.
Kessler said, “When you earn billions of dollars off the backs of these athletes you have to treat them fairly.”
The ruling ratchets up the pressure on the NCAA as it considers whether student-athletes can be compensated for the use of their names and images, opening the door for potentially lucrative endorsements.
Adding to the pressure, more than a dozen states have already passed laws allowing compensation for student athletes’ names and images and several of those laws take effect next month.
Congress is considering a bill to establish a nationwide standard.
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