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Who Should Define Amateurism?

by michelle
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NCAA vs Alston: A Quick Overview of the Alston Case

By Michelle Meyer │March 30, 2021

History of the Case

2014: A former West Virginia football athlete, Shawne Alston, sued the NCAA for violating the Sherman Antitrust Act.The act from 1890 says that businesses from the same industry can’t collude to hinder the competition that drives the USA’s economic system. 


2019: Judge Claudia Wilken, who has presided over most of the recent NCAA lawsuits, ruled that the NCAA could not place any limits on the education-related benefits that individual institutions can give their athletes.Those benefits include equipment such as laptops and musical instruments, funding for internships and study abroad programs, and limited cash rewards for getting good grades.


2020: NCAA appealed the case and lost. It then turned to the Supreme Court to overrule Wilken’s decision. 

The Argument

Alston: When NCAA member schools put a cap on the benefits they provide, it prevents athletes from being compensated for their true value. 


The athletes will have a significant ally — the U.S. government. The government arguing for the athletes is “very significant,” according to Bill Gould, a Stanford Law School professor, “the Biden administration has the athletes’ backs at the high court.”


NCAA: Argues that these limits are necessary to maintain amateurism. They argue that without amateurism, their business model wouldn’t work due to fans being less interested in watching. Furthermore, they claim that Wilken’s guidelines are too ambiguous and could be taken advantage of by schools to pay athletes for playing. Lastly, the NCAA’s attorneys argue that Wilken overstepped her authority and is making decisions that should be left up to the NCAA. 


Statistically, the Supreme Court overrules the lower court’s ruling about 70% of the time. “I think the NCAA has the better argument in this case,” said Matt Mitten, executive director of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University, “Justice Stevens, who was the only former antitrust lawyer on the Supreme Court, said the NCAA should be given ample latitude to distinguish college sports from professional sports”.

Potential Implications for Name, Image, and Likeness Legislation

If ruled in NCAA favor: Provides leverage over who gets to decide the details of future NIL rules (Government OR NCAA). Also, if a federal NIL bill doesn’t override state NIL bills by July, the NCAA could file injunctions to keep those state NIL bills from going into effect. A Supreme Court ruling in favor of the NCAA could increase their chances of having success in those cases.


If ruled in Alston’s favor: Adds more firepower for the state and federal lawmakers who are proposing less-restrictive NIL policies and are seeking additional changes to the collegiate sports model.


The hearing tomorrow (Wednesday, March 31) will give each side an opportunity to argue their case but a decision isn’t expected until May or June. It is not yet known whether the ruling will focus just on the education-related benefits or if it will address the broader concept of who should define amateurism.


One of the primary reasons the NCAA gave for delaying the vote in January on NIL changes was due to the Supreme Court agreeing to hear the Alston case. Regardless of the decision, this will get the NCAA moving again on the rights of collegiate athletes to monetize their NIL. 


Which way do you anticipate the Supreme Court deciding?

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