WASHINGTON – A court decision the NCAA says will hurt college sports by allowing certain student-athletes to be paid “vast sums” of money as “educational expenses” will go into effect after the Supreme Court declined Tuesday to intervene at this point.
Justice Elena Kagan denied the NCAA's request to put a lower court ruling on hold at least temporarily while the NCAA asks the Supreme Court to take up the case. It plans to do so by mid-October.
Kagan declined to put on hold a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In May it upheld a lower-court ruling prohibiting the NCAA from limiting compensation for education-related expenses for student-athletes. The ruling applies to athletes in Division I football and basketball programs.
The NCAA said the ruling “effectively created a pay-for-play system for all student-athletes, allowing them to be paid both ‘unlimited’ amounts for participating in ‘internships’” and an additional $5,600 or more each year they remain eligible to play their sport.
The ruling allows Division I conferences to still independently set rules for education-related compensation provided to student-athletes.
Donald Remy, the NCAA's chief legal officer, said in a statement Tuesday that the NCAA's Division I Council will meet Wednesday to “put in place an immediate implementation plan.” Remy said that given the “adverse impact” of the appeals court's decision and despite Kagan declining to put it on hold, the NCAA still plans to ask the Supreme Court to take the case.
Jeffrey L. Kessler, an attorney for the student-athletes who sued, cheered Kagan's decision.
“We are delighted that the athletes will soon be able to receive the many education related benefits that the injunction will permit. This is the start of a fair and just system to reward these athletes who put their bodies on the line to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for their schools," Kessler said in a statement. He represents former West Virginia football player Shawne Alston and other student-athletes who sued.
In seeking to have Kagan put the appeals court's decision on hold, the NCAA's lawyer, Seth Waxman, wrote that allowing schools to pay student athletes “vast sums on the pretense that they are for an ‘internship’” or awards for remaining eligible to play "will eradicate the distinction between college and professional athletes, causing many consumers to lose interest as college sports are perceived as just another minor league."
The decision is another victory for those who want college athletes compensated beyond just a scholarship, and there are more changes coming on that front. The NCAA is in the process of changing its rules to permit athletes to be compensated for the use of their names, images and likenesses. That should open opportunities for athletes to be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals, for appearances and for promoting products or events on social media accounts.
Gabriel Feldman, director of the Tulane University Sports Law Program, said Tuesday's decision “will open the door for schools to provide benefits they have not been able or willing to provide in the past.”
"The extent of those benefits remains to be seen and perhaps remains to be debated and discussed," Feldman said. "But at least from the language of the injunction itself, the NCAA will no longer be able to cap non-cash education-related benefits and will have a limited ability to cap the cash-related academic achievement awards.”
The NCAA is facing pressure from numerous states that have either passed laws or are working on bills that would make it impossible to prevent athletes from earning money from third parties for playing sports. The NCAA is seeking help from the federal government in the form of a national law that would supersede all state laws.
Stacy reported from Columbus, Ohio. AP College Football Writer Ralph Russo also contributed.