Antitrust Law and College Athletes

The Story:

On the last day of March, the Justices of the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments about college athletics, and an issue important both to the development of antitrust law and to America’s college-sports-obsessed pop culture. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (a private entity) has long presided over a system in which colleges are penalized if their student athletes veer from an idealized notion of an “amateur.” The lawsuit argued Wednesday is a direct challenge to the NCAA’s ability to limit compensation.


As an attorney for the NCAA put it with some concision, the NCAA has long said to students, “you are not paid to play, but you may receive the expenses of obtaining a education.” There are, though, many possible benefits that might accrue to a student athlete aside from direct compensation from the college at issue on the one hand, and the basic educational scholarship on the other. There are, for example, sponsorship deals. Why should a college star whose basketball prowess has earned him some renown not be able to offer the use of his name and image to a third party, perhaps a sneaker manufacturer, in return for something more than a pair of the sneakers?

The Thing to Know:

Two lower courts have supporting invalidating the NCAA’s limits on education-related aid. The consensus on the high court during arguments seemed to be close to the same conclusion, but history shows there is often a shift in sentiment between arguments and decision. The result will not be known for months.

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