Supreme Court rules against NCAA in landmark antitrust case

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The reckoning is coming. It hasn’t arrived yet, but it’s coming.

On Monday, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court (when is the Supreme Court ever unanimous on anything?) ruled against the NCAA on the question of whether the antitrust laws apply to rules restricting the benefits that any school may offer to student-athletes.

The outcome is narrow but the future implications could be very broad. For now, schools must be permitted to compete for student-athletes by offering educational benefits beyond undergraduate tuition, room, board, fees, and books. Enhanced education-related benefits from a given school no longer can be regarded as prohibited by the NCAA, a rule that in the opinion of the Supreme Court violates the antitrust laws.

Justice Gorsuch delivered the opinion for the nine-member Court. A concurring opinion (basically, an agreement but an articulation of different reasons) from Justice Kavanaugh has gotten and will continue to get more attention than the primary submission.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Kavanaugh essentially calls the NCAA what it is, and what it has been for decades: A golden-egg factory that refuses to properly compensate the geese.

“The NCAA has long restricted the compensation and benefits that student athletes may receive,” Justice Kavanaugh writes. “And with surprising success, the NCAA has long shielded its compensation rules from ordinary antitrust scrutiny. Today, however, the Court holds that the NCAA has violated the antitrust laws. The Court’s decision marks an important and overdue course correction, and I join the Court’s excellent opinion in full.”

Justice Kavanaugh explains that his separate opinion is aimed at underscoring the fact that, beyond the rules at issue in the current case, “the NCAA’s remaining compensation rules also raise serious questions under the antitrust laws.”

“The NCAA couches its arguments for not paying student athletes in innocuous labels,” he writes. “But the labels cannot disguise the reality: The NCAA’s business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America. All of the restaurants in a region cannot come together to cut cooks’ wages on the theory that ‘customers prefer’ to eat food from low-paid cooks. Law firms cannot conspire to cabin lawyers’ salaries in the name of providing legal services out of a ‘love of the law.’ Hospitals cannot agree to cap nurses’ income in order to create a ‘purer’ form of helping the sick. News organizations cannot join forces to curtail pay to reporters to preserve a ‘tradition’ of public-minded journalism. Movie studios cannot collude to slash benefits to camera crews to kindle a ‘spirit of amateurism’ in Hollywood.”

Amen to all of that. And those words will set the stage for broader and more aggressive attacks on a system that has allowed the various universities to stuff their coffers full of cash, to pay everyone involved with its sports programs except the athletes, and to continue to delay inexplicably the moment at which those who deserve to receive real financial rewards for the billions flowing from their talents, efforts, and sacrifices finally will be treated fairly.

“Price-fixing labor is price-fixing labor,” Justice Kavanaugh states. “And price-fixing labor is ordinarily a textbook antitrust problem because it extinguishes the free market in which individuals can otherwise obtain fair compensation for their work. . . . Businesses like the NCAA cannot avoid the consequences of price-fixing labor by incorporating price-fixed labor into the definition of the product.”

Here’s the kicker from Justice Kavanaugh, the ultimate truth from which the NCAA has been running: “The bottom line is that the NCAA and its member colleges are suppressing the pay of student athletes who collectively generate billions of dollars in revenues for colleges every year. Those enormous sums of money flow to seemingly everyone except the student athletes. College presidents, athletic directors, coaches, conference commissioners, and NCAA executives take in six- and seven-figure salaries. Colleges build lavish new facilities. But the student athletes who generate the revenues, many of whom are African American and from lower-income backgrounds, end up with little or nothing.”

The NCAA tries to hide behind the notion that there’s a magic or a purity to amateur athletics and the traditions they have spawned. That facade is beginning to crumble. Justice Kavanaugh takes a flamethrower to it.

“[T]hose 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,” Justice Kavanaugh writes. “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. 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.”

No, it isn’t. And the NCAA surely knew it before today. Roughly a decade ago, as society began to ask tough questions about a billion-dollar business that fails to fairly compensate its most important workers, the NCAA likely realized that the reckoning someday would arrive. The goal has been to delay it for as long as possible.

Today’s ruling shows that the NCAA and its members will enjoy several more budget cycles free from line items for on-field labor costs. Justice Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion shows that the NCAA can run, but it can’t hide.

34 responses to “Supreme Court rules against NCAA in landmark antitrust case

  1. when is the Supreme Court ever unanimous on anything?


    Here lately it’s been happening a lot.

  2. The end of the NCAA will lead to minor sports being eliminated, but a change was needed because they jumped the shark!

  3. lol can’t wait to hear all the nobody paid for my school, they are getting paid $60K per year in free education crowd. They are so bitter and predictable. You also don’t generate $100 millions of dollars for the University either

  4. All of that money. All of it going to line the pockets of the universities and athletic programs. Just think what those funds could do towards providing higher education to the bright minds that cannot afford the already artificially-inflated tuition costs of college.

    Mark Cuban’s comment continues to echo: “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.”

    This is a reckoning a long time in the coming, I hope some good comes of it. bringing back a truer form of “amateur athletics.”

  5. Say what you want about our country.. but the Supreme Court usually makes good decisions

  6. So, these student athletes need to start paying for their very expensive educations, not just getting a free ride

  7. i agree with bike man some smaller sports are going to disappear ,the money producing sports ie football basketball and in some cases hockey will no longer have to carry less popular or niche sports…overdue ,but inevitable.

  8. So what is fair compensation? And we’re talking about for the football players, and to a lesser degree, the basketball players – those are the cash cows, right? So just for them, what is fair compensation?

    There currently IS compensation, so I guess it’s not enough? Players can be grouped into two classes: those with legitimate professional possibilities (small number); those that have no professional possibilities (large number). Here is their current “compensation” at, let’s say, Penn State:

    1. Players with a real shot at going pro: We know you’re not here – at least not primarily – for the degree. We’ll cover your cost ($36,962 – $54,026 per year) of attending this school – and you’ll get a one, two, three or four year audition (your choice) to get to the next level where you could turn pro and potentially make millions. (However, we do suggest you get the degree as a back-up plan – heck, you’re getting it free of charge – why wouldn’t you?)

    2. Players with no shot of going pro: We know you are here for the degree. We’ll cover the cost ($36,962 – $54,026 per year) of attending this school, and if you can cut it academically, you will graduate with a four year degree of your choice and not one cent of debt as you enter the job market.

    That seems like pretty fair “compensation” to me. If you’re saying it’s not enough – fine – but then tell me how much it should be.

  9. This is not as big of a game changer as one might think. Colleges don’t have to provide added benefits. The ruling says it’s okay to offer more.

  10. howboutthemcowboys2020 says:
    June 21, 2021 at 11:41 am

    lol can’t wait to hear all the nobody paid for my school, they are getting paid $60K per year in free education crowd. They are so bitter and predictable. You also don’t generate $100 millions of dollars for the University either
    And NEITHER do any of those individual athletes. They are part of a very big program that involves THOUSANDS of employees in some cases. So, do the maintenance staff and the groundskeepers and athletic trainers and IT folks and everyone else involved in the production of College Football and Basketball get to benefit?

    No, it will be the handful of talented athletes who will ALSO squander that “free” 60K a year, that their fellow TRUE students are working for and being in debt for 20 years afterwards.

    Sorry, but this is just opening the door back up for what the NCAA cracked down for to begin with… Boosters and colleges paying for the best athletes so their program will be the best.

    Dangerous and slippery slope.

  11. Great decision but here come the increases in tuition and/or other fees. The fat cats are still going to get paid one way or another.

  12. The room and board benefit will be exploited.”Hey kid, do you want to live in a dorm? Or do you want to live in a booster’s mansion?”

  13. The Golden Goose is the perfect analogy because they had such a sweet deal but just couldn’t keep their greed in check. There is no expense spared at the big schools except when it comes to the players at which time you get speeches about how great amateurism is. Then they’ll go straight into griping about how the unpaid players mess things up for the millionaire coaches when they decide to transfer… right before the coach breaks his contract to take a higher paying job elsewhere.

  14. They need to find a good system on how to pay players. This could get ugly real quick, (not that it wasn’t) Qbs’ and running backs’ will probably get most of it. Then schools who can afford to pay higher caliber players will always be on top. I wonder how many schools can afford to do this. But the truth is, the football programs supports all other sports programs in each school, maybe you will see schools drop certain programs.

  15. joejoedancer55 says:
    June 21, 2021 at 11:56 am
    So, these student athletes need to start paying for their very expensive educations, not just getting a free ride

    I agree in some aspects considering my wife financed every penny of her education and we spent years paying it all off.

    With that being said, when speaking about basketball and football at major D1 pprgrams, your statement leaves out a major facet. Quite frankly, athletes In major porgrams are not there to be students.

    I live in Ann Arbor Michigan, a few miles from The University Of Michigan’s main campus, and I live even closer to the football stadium.

    UM is by far the most difficult public school in the state to get into,and one of the most difficult public schools to be admitted to in the country. You need to be around a 3.75 in high school with exceptional test scores, a rigorous academic schedule that includes AP courses, national honor society, tons of extra curricular stuff, etc to realistically be considered for admission. To put it simply, most people who apply don’t get in, and most high school students don’t have aptitude, let alone the drive to get into a school like that. I know I certainly didn’t have either.

    Scholarship athletes into the UM football program with very very rare exception would not even come close to being getting in they had to meet the same admissions standards as everyone else. They are admitted because they frankly are there to play football, not attend college. Their education is secondary, not primary, and everyone being honest knows that. Let me be clear, I am NOT knocking the kids- like I said, I was not even close to a good enough student to consider getting into UM.

    Jim Harbaugh is paid millions upon millions per year, and the football stadium seats over 100k. On days with home games, traffic is so bad that areas of the city are total gridlock and most people that live here simply don’t leave the house at certain times on Saturday.

    Look, I don’t know if paying players with a traditional check and such is the right fix. But to sit with a straight face and say that the players are amateurs when a coach makes as much as some CEO’s of major companies, and so many people come to the games that I have to go to a different grocery store on Saturday because my normal one is too close to the stadium is a pretty hard sell.

  16. Honestly, while this may seem great now, i have a feeling its going to blow up in the student athletes faces.

    The most obvious way for colleges decide to offset the money by removing athletic scholarships. College football players will actually be hurt the most when this happens unless the NFL removes their 3-year rule. There is no legitimate alternative to the NCAA for football players to go and showcase their skills. They will still have to go to college, but now their 4 years at university will leave them with 130K debt (thats the current projected cost of an all expenses paid 4-year degree at Michigan. So Michigan can in turn revoke all athletic scholarships and pay the student 32.5K a year for a 4-year commitment (you know like pro sports contracts work). But to make matters even worse, now said student athlete has to pay takes on that money. Now things get even more problematic for Juniors declaring for the draft. As they wont have that choice since the college would be able to refuse to let them out of their contracts to the university (you know similar to the problems athletes from armed forces programs have).

  17. I don’t think this ruling will help kids or colleges. College football TV revenue gets spread around throughout the entire campus, and this could hurt that revenue stream. It definitely won’t help the kids that need the most help. The money will be gone quickly, and they won’t have NFL careers to make it back.

  18. Good!!! Let’s bring college sports back to the actual college students!! Take the big talent and the money and let the NFL run its own minor league, where it should have been all along!!

  19. Make their pay on conditions. 1. They don’t see any of that money unltil they graduate. If they fail out of school they get nothing. If they leave for the nfl early they get nothing. If the see through it all and get their degree there will be an account with x amount of dollars waiting for them after graduation with interest for them to do with it what they like. I think giving players money early sets a bad precident for those players to live like kings around campus while many others who work jobs just to scrape buy on financial aid.

  20. Wait till the IRS finds out and decides that it’s now all taxable. Good luck students.

    I know – they could decide to make it not taxable, would take legislation and not every state is likely to participate – creating an even more uneven playing field in athletics.

  21. Now we can get rid of the sports who don’t pay their own way and eliminate most women sports. It could be a win/win for the casual sports fan.

  22. What exactly is landmark about this case? So the schools can no longer restrict benefits yet they are under no obligation to offer benefits either.

  23. This will be the end of college athletics. Alabama will pay their players more than any other school. Other schools without deep pockets will end their programs. College sports will become a minor league system and nobody ever wants to watch minor league sports.

    Also, Major League Baseball and Big Tech super billionaires maintain their anti-trust protections.

  24. Coaches shouldn’t be making millions and millions while their players make nothing. Some of these guys are just going to college and that’s it. Like the Ty Detmers and Johny Manziels of the world should get paid for having great college careers but no ability to be high end NFL players.

  25. I just never understood how legally the NCAA could put limits on the players compensation in the name of amateurism, but the coaches can have limitless salaries. If coaches were paid like professors, then that would be just the first step towards making the amateurism argument not laughable.

  26. Nothing says corruption like getting ALL the justices to come together in agreement against you

  27. Does this mean that the university presidents will take a bit longer to receive their millions?

  28. As long as the chosen method is transparent and accounts for increases as revenues increase, then it should not violate anti-trust laws.

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