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Carl W. Hittinger, left, and Julian Perlman, right, with Baker Hostetler.  Courtesy photos Carl W. Hittinger, left, and Julian Perlman, right, with Baker Hostetler. Courtesy photos

On March 31, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in NCAA v. Alston, No. 20-512 (S.Ct. Dec. 16, 2020). In this article, we discuss the arguments made by counsel for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and questions posed by the justices; in a future article, we will do the same for the players’ arguments, leading up to our coverage of the court’s decision, likely this summer.

Previously in this case, the court granted certiorari and agreed to review two U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decisions that had affirmed the district court’s judgment that the NCAA’s and several collegiate athletic conferences’ rules regarding compensation paid to college athletes violated Section 1 of the Sherman Act. The Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court’s judgment, applying the rule of reason following a bench trial, holding that there were procompetitive justifications for those rules that prohibited unlimited cash payments unrelated to education, but that there were no such procompetitive justifications for rules limiting education-related compensation and prohibiting such limits. The NCAA sought to reverse, whereas the players did not challenge the Ninth Circuit’s affirmance, which kept in place certain limits unrelated to education.

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