NCAA President Says Student-Athlete Compensation Rule Changes Limited by Antitrust Lawsuits

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NCAA President Mark Emmert stated in a panel that the NCAA’s planned reforms regarding student-athlete compensation will be limited by rulings in various antitrust cases.

After California passed a law allowing for student-athlete compensation and many states looked to follow, the NCAA announced in a statement that it would allow student-athletes to benefit off their name, image, and likeness. The NCAA stressed that any changes would have to be consistent with the collegiate model.

In addition to new laws and proposed legislation, the NCAA has faced antitrust litigation over its compensation rules. The Ninth Circuit in O’Bannon v. NCAA stated that the rules limiting compensation to scholarships violated antitrust law but that most of the amateurism system could still be left intact. Currently, there is a case on appeal to the Ninth Circuit involving a California federal judge’s ruling that the NCAA could only limit compensation and benefits “unrelated to education.”

Emmert now says that these lawsuits might limit the kinds of reforms the NCAA can seek. During a talk at the Aspen Institute in Washington D.C., Emmert stated that any rule changes would have to be consistent with the Ninth Circuit rulings. Specifically, Emmert mentioned the holding in O’Bannon that compensation to student-athletes must be “tethered to education.” After noting how important it is for the NCAA to be compliant with court rulings, Emmert stated that he feels good about the lawsuits and how they ultimately reinforce the collegiate model.

After noting these limitations, Emmert expressed his interest in working with Congress on this issue. As we reported this month, a bipartisan coalition of five United States senators is currently working on legislation that will address student-athlete compensation at the federal level. Even though the NCAA has historically resisted federal regulation of college sports, Emmert and the NCAA see working with Congress on this issue to be beneficial. To the NCAA, having a uniform federal law is easier to comply with than a patchwork of state laws.

In addition to discussing legal requirements, Emmert addressed the criticism that money spent on expensive facilities and recruiting coaches should instead be spent on athletes. He noted that there has been wasteful spending on facilities and that there are strong arguments to be made that such money should be spent elsewhere. However, he argued that the issue of school spending should remain separate from the issue of student-athlete compensation.

Following Emmert at the Aspen Institute was Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association (NCPA), which is a group that supported the California law and strongly advocates for student-athlete compensation. Huma was critical of the NCAA, noting how they were against the California law and arguing that they will want to maintain the status quo as much as possible.

We will continue to monitor this issue.

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