Sports | June 21, 2021 1:51 pm

Supreme Court Backs Education-Related Payments to Athletes in NCAA Compensation Case

The decision could eventually lead to salaries for student-athletes

The U.S. Supreme Court building
The U.S. Supreme Court building is shown on June 21, 2021.
Win McNamee/Getty

In a unanimous decision on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling that the NCAA can’t enforce caps on education-related benefits like computers and paid internships that colleges can offer to student-athletes as part of their scholarships.

While the decision does not decide whether students can be paid salaries, it does now allow for schools to offer musical instruments, scientific equipment, postgraduate scholarships, tutoring, study abroad and academic awards. It also possibly opens the door for schools to start paying student-athletes to play at some point in the future.

“Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not 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,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote. “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.”

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found in 2020 that the NCAA’s rules on education-related compensation were unfair and violate federal antitrust laws designed to promote competition. The Supreme Court upheld that ruling and the NCAA will now be barred from enforcing those rules.

Per the Supreme Court’s ruling, Division I athletic conferences may now independently set the rules for education-related compensation or benefits that their member institutions may provide to student-athletes.

Gabe Feldman, Tulane University’s sports law program director, called Justice Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion “the most anti-NCAA, damning antitrust opinion that has ever been authored.”

“The longer term concern for the NCAA is if enough justices and federal judges join with Justice Kavanaugh’s view,” Feldman told The New York Times. “It could only be a matter of time before all of the NCAA’s restrictions on compensation are struck down as antitrust violations.”

The players associations of the NFL, NBA and WNBA had previously all urged the justices to side with the ex-athletes who brought the suit against the NCAA, as did the Biden administration, per the Associated Press.