Score one for of the “student” part of college athletics’ “student-athlete” model.

In a landmark ruling sure to provide ripple effects in the coming months and years, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled against the NCAA in an antitrust case, paving the way for removing restrictions for athletes related to education.

The NCAA had carried the power to limit paid tutoring and other benefits including paid internships, postgraduate scholarships, science-related and music-related equipment, cash-based academic awards and more.

The ruling allows Division I men and women’s basketball players, as well as Football Bowl Subdivision (major colleges) players to now receive those education-related benefits.

While the unanimous ruling allows conferences to impose prohibitions on certain benefits if their member schools so choose, those conferences doing so would risk a competitive disadvantage against those which do not.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch’s opinion painted a real-world look at college athletics.

While referencing the NCAA’s right to “forbid in-kind benefits unrelated to a student’s actual education” remained, he also wrote: “Nobody questions that Division I basketball and FBS football can proceed (and have proceeded) without the education-related compensation restrictions the district court enjoined; the games go on.”

In a concurring opinion, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh put it plainly.

“The NCAA’s business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America,” he wrote. “All of the restaurants in a region cannot come together to cut cooks’ wages on the theory that ‘customers prefer’ to eat food from low-paid cooks. Law firms cannot conspire to cabin lawyers’ salaries in the name of providing legal services out of a ‘love of the law.’ .. Movie studios cannot collude to slash benefits to camera crews to kindle a ‘spirit of amateurism’ in Hollywood. Price-fixing labor is price-fixing labor. And price-fixing labor is ordinarily a textbook antitrust problem because it extinguishes the free market in which individuals can otherwise obtain fair compensation for their work.” 

The ruling reinforced the lower courts’ decision that the plaintiffs’ attorneys be awarded more than $33 million in fees and costs.

“It is our hope that this victory in the battle for college athletes’ rights will carry on a wave of justice uplifting further aspects of athlete compensation,” one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys said in a statement on Monday. “This is the fair treatment college athletes deserve.”

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