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High Court Passes on NCAA Case, but Players Still Could Get Paid

Article by Lester Munson on ESPN

The Supreme Court’s surprising decision Monday to leave in place court rulings that found the NCAA’s amateurism rules for college basketball and football players violated federal antitrust law raises questions about paying college athletes and the future of college sports.

Q: In essence, the Supreme Court was not interested in answering the question of whether college athletes can be paid, so what happens now?

A: The rule that now governs college sports is the one issued in a prior ruling in the O’Bannon vs. NCAA case. In that 2-1 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, the court ruled that NCAA schools would be permitted to pay a student-athlete’s entire cost of attendance but would be prohibited from paying anything beyond that.

In the lawsuit they filed six years ago against the NCAA, O’Bannon and his legal team sought a new rule that would permit schools to pay athletes for use of their names, images and likenesses. They succeeded in a 2014 trial in Oakland, California, persuading a federal judge to authorize payments of $5,000 per player per season. But the NCAA appealed and won a reversal of the $5,000 provision. In their appeal to the Supreme Court, O’Bannon’s lawyers hoped to reinstate the $5,000 payments or allow even greater payments. It did not happen, and the O’Bannon quest is over.

Q: So — who is the clear winner here?

A: There is no doubt that the O’Bannon outcome is a triumph for the NCAA and its top lawyer, Donald Remy. Facing the possibility of unlimited payments to athletes, the NCAA was on the precipice of a radical change when this saga began. It is certain that the NCAA and Remy would have agreed to paying the cost of attendance as a settlement of this case. Even as the case traveled through the court system, the leaders of the five power conferences were deciding voluntarily to pay the cost of attendance for players.

That stated, the result of this case is not a total triumph for the NCAA. The legal precedent set in the O’Bannon appellate decision includes a ruling that the NCAA is a cartel that is subject to the nation’s antitrust laws, a ruling that opens the organization to attacks from other athletes.

In his statement in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday, Remy said the NCAA membership agreements “are not violations of the antitrust law” and that the organization would “continue to advance that legal position in other litigation.” The NCAA hoped in its appeal to the Supreme Court to obtain a decision that it was immune to antitrust scrutiny.

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