Supreme Court appears to favor college athletes in NCAA pay case

by Buzz Street Times

Shawne Alston #20 of the West Virginia Mountaineers rushes for a 4-yard touchdown in the first quarter against the Clemson Tigers during the Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 4, 2012 in Miami Gardens, Florida.

J. Meric | Getty Images

Division I student athletes looked poised for victory in their Supreme Court battle against the National Collegiate Athletic Association over whether the organization may impose restraints on compensation related to education.

During 90 minutes of arguments held by phone Wednesday, the justices appeared skeptical of the claim made by the NCAA that payments to students for things like musical instruments and internships will sour fans who are drawn to the amateur quality of its competitions.

The case is the latest legal challenge over the NCAA’s compensation policies and comes amid a high-profile and related push by student athletes seeking to profit off their own names, images and likenesses. The NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournament will hold its championships for women and men on Sunday and Monday.

Justices appointed by both Republicans and Democrats seemed persuaded by arguments made by the attorney for the student athletes, Jeffrey Kessler, that the NCAA was violating federal antitrust law with its restrictions on education-related payments.

A federal district court struck down those restrictions and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision.

“These are competitors all getting together with total market power fixing prices,” Justice Elena Kagan told Seth Waxman, the NCAA’s attorney and a former U.S. solicitor general.

Elizabeth Prelogar, the acting solicitor general, argued in favor of the student athletes.

Waxman centered his arguments on the contention that NCAA sports had always been defined by their amateur quality, which he said meant that student athletes were not paid to play. He said that education-related benefits, “whatever their labels,” are effectively professional salaries.

The last time the Supreme Court considered NCAA athlete compensation, in the 1984 case NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, it said that amateurism excluded payments for athletic performance, Waxman said.

Kessler, in contrast, said those arguments were “just the latest iteration of the repeatedly debunked claims that compensation will destroy demand for college sports.” Kessler said that the definition of amateurism should be more narrow: That games are played by students.

The case is Shawne Alston v. NCAA, No. 20-512.

This is breaking news. Check back for updates. 

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