The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to take up the NCAA's appeal of a lower court decision that loosened the limits on compensation given to student athletes.
A federal appeals court ruled in May that the NCAA's limits on education-related benefits — such as computers, musical instruments or postgraduate scholarships — violated anti-trust laws. The ruling was a victory for current and former athletes in Division I basketball and the Football Bowl Subdivision, led by former West Virginia University running back Shawne Alston.
In urging the Supreme Court to take the case, the NCAA said the lower court ruling would "fundamentally transform the centuries-old institution of NCAA sports, blurring the traditional line between college and professional athletes."
But lawyers for the athletes said that while top-level NCAA sports have become multibillion-dollar industries "through the hard work, sweat, and sometimes broken bodies of student athletes," schools nonetheless agree among themselves to limit what the students can receive.
The agreements among these schools represent a classic restraint of trade, the lawyers said.
The justices also agreed to hear a similar case involving the Power Five athletic conferences — the Big Ten, Southeastern, Atlantic Coast, Big 12 and Pac-12.
The cases do not involve the separate, and much more contentious, issue of whether student athletes can be paid. Federal District Court Judge Claudia Wilkin, whose ruling was upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, found it important to maintain a distinction between college and professional sports.
“In addition to the fact that college sports are played by students actually attending the college, student-athletes are not paid the very large salaries that characterize the professional sports leagues that many student-athletes aspire to,” she said.
The Supreme Court will hear the case early next year and issue a decision by early July.