It was long overdue.
On June 21, the United States Supreme Court delivered a conclusive blow to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s farcical claim that student-athletes, who are responsible for generating billions of dollars of revenue for the organization and its member schools, are amateurs, therefore prohibiting their financial gain from a system they singularly drive.
But the unanimous 9-0 decision by the Court’s justices in the National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Alston et. al., led by former West Virginia University running back Shawne Alston, did not provide the metaphorical knockout punch to categorically allow student-athletes the unfettered capacity to profit off of this country’s over $22.7 trillion capitalistic architecture. The justices issued a narrow ruling asserting college athletes should be permitted to receive compensation for academic related expenses such as computers and internships.
The NCAA argued that such payments outside the scope of scholarships violate the definition of amateurism and that they alone were fundamentally the last bastion establishing an unambiguous distinction between professional and amateur athletics. This despite the NCAA, founded in 1906, having a 10-year, $24 billion television deal with CBS/Turner to broadcast the wildly popular March Madness basketball tournament through 2024.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, who wrote the opinion of the Court noted, “[The NCAA’s] television deal for the FBS conference’s College Football Playoff is worth approximately $470 million per year. …Those who run this enterprise profit in a different way than the student-athletes whose activities they oversee. The president of the NCAA earns nearly $4 million per.”
The justices deemed the NCAA’s position to be a classic violation of federal antitrust laws which limits competition. And to be clear the NCAA is a monopoly. There is no other comparable entity that can challenge its hold on the opportunities available to aspiring college athletes. This was apparent to the Court.
“Colleges and universities across the country have leveraged sports to bring in revenue, attract attention, boost enrollment, and raise money from alumni,” the decision underscored. “That profitable enterprise relies on ‘amateur’ student-athletes who compete under horizontal restraints that restrict how the schools may compensate them for their play. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) issues and enforces these rules, which restrict compensation for student-athletes in various ways. These rules depress compensation for at least some student-athletes below what a competitive market would yield.”
The NCAA v. Alston doesn’t definitively address the egregious issue of student-athletes being denied the legal right to profit off of their names, images and likenesses. After learning his likeness was being used in an NCAA themed video game without prior knowledge or contractual compensation agreement, Ed O’Bannon, a four-year basketball star at UCLA before becoming a first round pick of the then New Jersey Nets in 1995, filed a 2014 class action lawsuit seeking the right of former student-athletes to be paid for the NCAA’s use of their names, images, likenesses.
In that case, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California ruled the NCAA had indeed violated antitrust laws. However, a subsequent decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals left the matter of NIL compensation unresolved. “Even though the [NCAA v. Alston] decision does not directly address name, image and likeness, the NCAA remains committed to supporting (name, image and likeness) benefits for student-athletes,” claimed the organization’s president, Mark Emmert, after the justices’ determination, in what is a laughable submission given its demonstrable hypocrisy.
“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.” Several states have passed NIL laws that take effect today but there are loopholes. In May, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill into law that starting today (July 1) will allow athletes attending colleges in the state to profit from NIL.
The catch: those institutions of higher learning can take 75% of the earnings if they so choose and place it in an escrow account to be shared with other athletes. It is a blunt and unfair lesson in iron-fisted rule being disseminated to youth by those pledging undying loyalty to democracy.
By any reasonable and objective view, the NCAA’s nominal amateur system remains standing on a foundation of greed, duplicitousness and repression.