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Supreme Court to rule on NCAA limits on paid college athletes

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to rule whether the NCAA violated federal antitrust laws by limiting what college athletes could be paid.

In May, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, San Francisco, ruled that the NCAA was not free to limit the compensation and benefits of educating soccer and basketball players. -ball of division I.

The court rejected the NCAA’s argument that athlete compensation alienated sports fans. “A cap on certain education benefits would preserve consumer demand for college athletics just as well as the contested rules,” Chief Justice Sidney R. Thomas wrote for a three-judge panel unanimously .

“These benefits are easily distinguished from the salaries of professionals,” he wrote, as they are education related and could be provided in kind rather than cash. “The case provides sufficient support,” Justice Thomas added, “that the provision of education-related benefits does not and will not repel college sports fans.”

Urging the Supreme Court to hear an appeal, NCAA lawyers wrote that “the ruling will turn student-athletes into professionals, eliminating the pro-competitive distinction between college and professional sports.”

“Consumers will likely come to view NCAA athletics as just another form of minor league sports,” the brief said.

Lawyers for the athletes rejected what they called “the rhetoric that falls in the air” and said the pay in question was modest, including only “perks such as computers, scientific equipment, instruments. music, graduate scholarships, private tuition, study abroad, university awards and internships. . “

While the appeal court’s decision “is of great importance to the student-athletes whose work and sacrifice drives the multi-billion dollar industry of Division football and basketball. I of the NCAA, ”the brief said, does not allow direct payments to players.

“Nor does it require, according to the brief, a school to provide these kinds of educational benefits or to prevent an individual conference from restricting those benefits if it so chooses.” In short, it just allows schools and individual conferences to compete against each other. “

The NCAA – which has about 1,100 member schools, most far removed from the bright lights and money of high-profile competition – welcomed the Supreme Court’s agreement to hear the case.

“The NCAA and its members continue to believe that college campuses should be able to improve the student-athlete experience without facing endless litigation over these changes,” said Donald M. Remy, chief legal officer of the association, in a press release.

The association has been under siege in recent years, with state after state considering proposals to allow student-athletes to enjoy their fame. Members are expected to vote on new rules on the subject – known as name, picture, and likeness – in 2021, even as NCAA officials continue to ask Congress for relief that is yet to come. came.

The Supreme Court will likely hear the arguments in the new case, National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Alston, No. 20-512, in the spring, with a decision expected by July.

The principal plaintiff in the case is Shawne Alston, a former running back at the University of West Virginia. His lawyers said he and the other plaintiffs had been exploited.

“The NCAA and its member conferences and schools receive billions of dollars each year through the hard work, sweat and sometimes broken bodies of student-athletes,” their memory reads.

“Coaches, assistant coaches and athletic directors take millions of dollars in salaries,” the brief said. “Yet the schools have agreed among themselves to limit what student-athletes can receive for their work by generating this extraordinary income. The agreements between these schools represent a classic horizontal restriction on trade – an agreement between competitors to limit how much they will have to spend to compete for talent and workforce. “

Alan Blinder contribution to reporting from Atlanta.

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