NCAA Court Case Will Not Restore Lost Rights of Athlete-Students

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear an appeal by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in response to a Ninth Circuit ruling that allows colleges to compensate athletes for expenses related to their education. In 2014, West Virginia running back Shawne Alston argued that NCAA rules that place any limit on compensation from universities to athletes violated antitrust law. The NCAA sought to put that ruling on hold, but Justice Elena Kagan denied the request and now the high court will hear the case, with a ruling expected by summer 2021. Whatever the result, the woes of athlete-students will continue because, as CNN reported, “bans against direct cash payments remain in effect.”

Like all Americans, athletes have the right to market their own name and image. When they get to college, the NCAA usurps that right. The organization forbids the athlete-students from making any money and pays them in kind, with scholarships. As we noted in 2018, while hailing the virtues of “amateurism,” the NCAA bags millions for the television rights, with some long-term deals ranging in the billions. NCAA bosses get seven-figure salaries even though it’s the athlete-students that people will pay to watch. High-school players are also taking notice.

Top basketball recruit Jalen Green is signing with the NBA Development League and could earn $1 million his first year. In similar style, former prospects LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton, signed with teams in Australia and both were first-round NBA picks this year. They are likely to be better players for the experience.

Slovenian star Luka Doncic was earning big money for Real Madrid since he was 16 years old. In the 2019 NBA season, at age 20, he averaged 28.8 points, 9.4 assists and 8.8 rebounds. Doncic now boasts 27 career triple doubles, including two in the playoffs. With their right to market themselves still in the pocket of the NCAA, more gifted athletes will doubtless go the professional route straight out of high school.

Meanwhile, a more central legal question involves when, exactly, these athlete-students lost their right to market themselves. The big stars aside, fans may rest assured that any member of the University of Alabama football team or UCLA basketball team could earn money from autographs, jersey sales, product endorsements and such.

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at The Daily Caller.
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