Supreme Court Rules Unanimously Against NCAA in Case over Student-Athlete Benefits

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIJune 21, 2021

Iowa State defensive back Deon Broomfield (26) chases down West Virginia running back Shawne Alston (20) during the first half of an NCAA college football game on Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)
AP Photo/Matthew Putney

The United States Supreme Court dealt a significant blow to the NCAA's amateurism rules Monday after upholding a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruling on the NCAA vs. Alston case that the organization "can no longer bar colleges from providing athletes with education-related benefits such as free laptops or paid post-graduate internships," per SCOTUSblog.

Justice Neil Gorsuch delivered an opinion for a unanimous court, according to SCOTUSblog. Justice Brett Kavanaugh filed a separate, concurring opinion. The Supreme Court's ruling and opinions can be found here.

The Harvard Journal Sports and Entertainment Law Journal explained the NCAA vs. Alston case in more detail:

"The question at issue in NCAA v. Alston asks whether the NCAA’s restrictions on compensation for student-athletes are violative of federal antitrust law. Shawne Alston, the lead plaintiff who represents a class of former student-athletes, filed the original complaint in 2014. Almost seven years later, Alston represents a culmination of years of antitrust litigation for the NCAA and a push for the expansion of economic rights for collegiate athletes.

"The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order in Alston, holding that the NCAA could no longer enforce rules restricting certain education-related benefits that its member institutions could offer to student-athletes. The court’s analysis found that the lower court properly applied the Rule of Reason test and properly held that the NCAA’s restrictions on non-cash benefits related to education violated the Sherman Act."

ESPN's Dan Murphy also offered more commentary:

Dan Murphy @DanMurphyESPN

The Supreme Court unanimously affirmed a ruling in NCAA v. Alston, dealing a blow to the assocation's definition of amateuism. As Justice Kavanaugh says in his concurring opinion, "The NCAA is not above the law."

Jeffrey Kessler, the plaintiffs' attorney, also spoke with Murphy on what this ruling meant going forward:

Dan Murphy @DanMurphyESPN

Just spoke with plaintiffs' attorney Jeffrey Kessler, who calls today's SCOTUS ruling a major step toward fairness for college athletes. <br><br>Kessler said he needed more time to read the opinion before commenting on how impactful this ruling could be on future antitrust action. pic.twitter.com/4rI96nmzTJ

West Virginia running back Shawne Alston, who played for the Mountaineers from 2009-2012, is named in the case.

Alston rushed for 1,068 yards and scored 19 touchdowns during his four-year WVU career. He tied for a team-high 12 scores during the 2011 season.

Michael McCann of Sportico provided his opinion on what the NCAA vs. Alston case meant:

Michael McCann @McCannSportsLaw

When all of the justices--from the very conservative to the very liberal--don't buy what you're saying, there might be something wrong with what you are saying: https://t.co/xlKmQ3liiS

Pepperdine associate professor and The Athletic and Washington Post contributor Alicia Jessop provided more examples on what lies ahead, specifically in regards to name, image and likeness (NIL) rules:

Alicia Jessop @RulingSports

Where the status of NCAA athlete compensation stands now, with the Supreme Court’s Alston ruling:<br><br>1. Schools can give unlimited benefits tied to education<br><br>2. Expect every state to pass or speed up NIL legislation <br><br>3. Expect the NCAA to FINALLY draft NIL legislation

The Athletic previously explained the deal with NIL legislation, which is happening concurrently with the landmark NCAA vs. Alston case:

"In September 2019, the state of California passed what was then known as the 'Fair Pay to Play' act, which would allow college athletes in the state to profit off their NIL beginning Jan. 1, 2023. The law also prohibits universities from revoking an athlete’s scholarship for accepting money earned through such means.

"The move put direct pressure on the NCAA to enact its own NIL legislation and kicked off a race for other states to introduce their own laws."

Nineteen states have since passed NIL laws, and seven of them will see those laws go into effect July 1 or July 23.