The Supreme Court’s justices on Wednesday expressed significant questions about the NCAA’s athlete-compensation limits, but they also showed concerns that a case challenging those limits could destroy college sports as they currently exist.
Their comments came during oral argument in a case appealed by the NCAA and 11 major-conference co-defendants after lower courts ruled that the association’s compensation limits violate antitrust trust law and that there should be no nation-wide limits on the education-related benefits athletes playing Division I men’s or women’s basketball or Bowl Subdivision football can receive.
Among the benefits that would be allowed by the lower courts are cash payments for various academic achievements, scholarships to complete undergraduate or graduate degrees at any school and paid internships after they have completed their collegiate-sports eligibility.
TAKE THE COURT: NCAA has its day in Supreme Court Wednesday after 12 years, millions of dollars
The NCAA’s lawyer, Seth Waxman, contended that legal precedents and the law itself should allow the NCAA to set the compensation rules because the public benefits from having a choice between pro and amateur sports, as the NCAA defines amateur sports.
However, he faced pointed inquiry from nearly all of the justices, with Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh asserting that “the antitrust laws should not be a cover for exploitation of the student-athletes” and noting that the NCAA’s argument “seems entirely circular and even somewhat disturbing.”
On the other hand, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., in questioning the plaintiffs’ attorney, Jeff Kessler, talked about the notion the decision by – and the additional benefits – approved by lower courts in this case could lead more and more legal erosion of any limits on athletes compensation.
“It's like a game of Jenga,” Roberts said. “You've got this nice solid block that protects the sort of product the schools want to provide. And you pull out one log and then another and everything's fine and another and another. And all of a sudden the whole thing comes crashing down. So what's your answer to that way of looking at it?”
Kessler responded that in this instance the issue is only about education-related benefits.
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