Supreme Court Rules Against NCAA Caps On Student-Athlete Gifts And Benefits

By Bill Galluccio

June 21, 2021

Northwestern v Vanderbilt
Photo: Getty Images

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the NCAA violated antitrust laws by placing a cap on education-related benefits that college athletes can receive.

The NCAA does not allow athletes to paid but permits schools to cover the cost of tuition and room and board, along with $5,000 worth of education-related expenses. Those benefits can include new computers, private tutoring, paid internships, and the costs of attending study abroad programs.

"Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate," Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote. "And under ordinary principles of antitrust law, it is not evident why college sports should be any different. The NCAA is not above the law."

While the decision is a significant blow to the NCAA, the justices did not rule on whether athletes can be paid by the schools or whether student-athletes were allowed to accept other benefits not related to education or earn money off their image.

"For our part, though, we can only agree with the Ninth Circuit: "'The national debate about amateurism in college sports is important. But our task as appellate judges is not to resolve it. Nor could we. Our task is simply to review the district court judgment through the appropriate lens of antitrust law,'" Gorsuch wrote.

Despite the narrow scope of the ruling, the plaintiffs hope it will pave the way for student-athletes to one day be paid for their time playing college sports.

"It's tremendous to win this 9-0. Hopefully, it will be the major next step on the road to a true fair, competitive system for these athletes. It should have positive effects immediately on NIL. We look forward to a world that's better for college athletes today than it was yesterday," Jeffrey Kessler, the plaintiffs' attorney, told ESPN.

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