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NCAA to appeal ruling in antitrust case about compensation

March 23, 2019

The NCAA and major college conferences will appeal a judge’s ruling that the governing body violated antitrust laws by limiting education-related benefits to athletes.

In a statement released early Saturday, the said the district court “erred by giving itself authority to micromanage decisions about education-related support” to athletes.

“We believe, and the Supreme Court has recognized, that NCAA member schools and conferences are best positioned to strengthen and revise their rules to better support student-athletes, rather than forcing these issues into continuous litigation,” NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said.

The appeal was expected and the announcement comes during the first weekend of NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the largest source of revenue for the association and its more than 1,200 member universities and colleges. The NCAA is in the middle of 14-year deal with CBS and Turner that pays $10.8 billion for the right to televise the tournament.

The case will go to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has previously heard appeals in other NCAA cases decided by U.S. Judge Claudia Wilken in the Northern District of California.

Wilken ruled this month in the so-called Alston case that football and men’s and women’s basketball players competing at the NCAA’s highest level may receive compensation from schools beyond the athletic scholarship if the benefits are tied to education.

While the judge ruled the NCAA was in violation of antitrust law, the plaintiffs had asked to lift all NCAA caps on compensation.

Plaintiffs claimed all rules prohibiting schools from giving athletes in revenue-generating sports more financial incentives for competing should be struck down. The goal was to create a free market, where conferences set rules for compensating athletes, but this ruling still allows the NCAA to prohibit cash compensation untethered to education-related expenses.

The NCAA argued that altering amateurism rules would lead to pay-for-play, fundamentally damaging college sports and harming academic integration of athletes.

The narrow scope of Wilken’s ruling allowed both sides to claim victory, and opened the possibility that both sides could appeal.

Wilken is the same judge who ruled in 2014 on the so-called O’Bannon case, which challenged the NCAA’s right to use athletes’ names, images and likenesses without compensation. The case also produced a mixed ruling that eventually went to the Ninth Circuit on appeal.

In O’Bannon, Wilken ruled schools should be permitted, but not required, to compensate athletes for use of their name, image and likeness, with payments capped at $5,000 per year. The appeals court overturned that and said payments “untethered” to education were not required by schools.”

Wilken also ruled the NCAA was required to allow schools to factor in their federally determined cost of attendance into the value of an athletic scholarship. That is now common practice in major college sports, though schools were already moving toward NCAA legislation allowing for cost of attendance when Wilken made her ruling.

The plaintiffs argued in the Alston case that implementation of cost-of-attendance stipends prove paying athletes even more would not hurt college sports.

The NCAA appealed the O’Bannon case to the Supreme Court but the court declined to take it.