In a landmark decision that will have widespread consequences for America’s amateur sports leagues, a United States appeals court has ruled that NCAA compensation rules for college athletes are a violation of antitrust law. College athletes brought the case to court in an effort to be financially compensated for their participation in lucrative college sports.
Many people have called for college athletes to be better compensated for their contributions. The athletes risk injury and commit large amounts of time to their sports while they are only compensated by having their tuition paid for. Most college athletes not end up playing at the professional level yet colleges across the country make billions of dollars from their services every year.
Although the case is centering on antitrust law, most people view it as debate of whether or not college athletes should be paid for their labor.
Meanwhile, the NCAA says that it is defending the tradition of amateurism in college sports, and paying its athletes would take away from its integrity.
Last year, one federal judge in California said that the NCAA should permit schools to compensate athletes at a maximum rate of $5,000 per year. In its Wednesday ruling, the 9th United States Circuit Court of Appeals made the decision that the NCAA must allow schools to provide student athletes enough financial compensation to cover their cost of attending college. However, the decision also reversed the order of the lower court to provide $5,000 annually beyond that.
Representatives of athletes said that the ruling was a landmark victory, since the education-related expenses could still represent thousands of dollars that athletes would have previously been unable to obtain.
Attorney Sathya Gosselin said, “There is an avenue of competition that is now open to the schools that wasn't previously available. As revenues soar in big time college athletics, we would expect to see vigorous competition among the schools.”
President of the NCAA Mark Emmert said that the association has permitted colleges to provide athletes up to the full cost of attendance since August. However, he does not believe that should be required by the courts.
Some experts believe that the ruling will put pressure on the NCAA to construct a compensation formula of its own.
Northeastern School of Law professor Roger Abrams said, “"It’s another indication that the NCAA has to wake up and think about comprehensive reform.”
Meanwhile, the ruling is unlikely to change the relationship between the NCAA and its television broadcasters. The broadcasters have supported the NCAA in court, arguing that the idea that each participant in athletics has a right to publicity is fundamentally incorrect.
The case was brought to court by 20 current and former student athletes. The group filed an antitrust class action lawsuit against the NCAA. They are led by Ed O’Bannon a former UCLA student athlete who won a national basketball championship in 1995. O’Bannon testified that he spent 40-45 hours per week playing basketball for UCLA.
Judge of the 9th Circuit Court Jay Bybee wrote that there is a major difference between colleges paying education-related expenses and offering their athletes financial compensation.
Bybee wrote, “At that point the NCAA will have surrendered its amateurism principles entirely and transitioned from its 'particular brand of football' to minor league status.”
The panel of three judges decided unanimously to allow colleges to pay expenses related to education. However, Judge Sidney Thomas also wanted to permit colleges to their athletes pay $5,000 per year.
Meanwhile, the 9th Circuit also ruled that college athletes have a right to publicity in video games. However, it refused to decide whether or not this right also applies to television broadcasts or historic footage.