On June 21, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in NCAA v. Alston, an antitrust case that tested the limits on the NCAA’s power to cap compensation to college athletes. The unanimous opinion, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, begins with a detailed history of the interplay between two colliding forces (revealing the prism through which the court viewed the issues): money and college amateur athletics.
Despite that lengthy history, the court observed that the legal issue before it was narrow—namely, whether to affirm the district court injunction, rendered after a trial, prohibiting limits on education-related compensation and education-related benefits paid to players, which had been affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The district court’s “50-page opinion that cut both ways” left in place “the NCAA’s rules limiting undergraduate athletic scholarships and other compensation related to athletic performance. At the same time, the court struck down NCAA rules limiting the education-related benefits schools may offer student-athletes.” Only the NCAA appealed from that decision; while the athletes did not challenge the district court’s decision (which left in place limits unrelated to education), they had originally sued more generally over the “current, interconnected set of NCAA rules that limit the compensation they may receive in exchange for their athletic services.”