Does having exceptional athletic ability mean you aren’t allowed to have the same educational tools as college students not on athletic scholarships?
The National Collegiate Athletic Association seemed to think so, out of some misguided notion that denying student-athletes from poor families the opportunity to accept education-related gifts was in keeping with the “spirit of amateurism.”
Thankfully, on Monday the Supreme Court told the NCAA to knock it off.
The nation’s highest court, in a unanimous decision, ruled that the NCAA could not forbid education-related payments to student-athletes. In a concurring opinion, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh issued a blistering denunciation of the NCAA.
“The NCAA has long restricted the compensation and benefits that student-athletes may receive,” Kavanaugh wrote. “And with surprising success, the NCAA has long shielded its compensation rules from ordinary antitrust scrutiny. Today, however, the Court holds that the NCAA has violated the antitrust laws. The Court’s decision marks an important and overdue course correction.”
Throughout its 115-year history, the NCAA has largely defended the principle that students should play sports as amateurs, the New York Times reported. Even top athletes in high-profile sports like football and basketball — sports that bring in billions of dollars annually to the NCAA — are limited to receiving no more than a scholarship, books, room and board and, more recently, other costs of attending college, a figure that can include travel and other living expenses. The organization sets the rules for about 500,000 college athletes in the United States.
While having books paid for was sufficient for pursuing an education in the days of Red “The Galloping Ghost” Grange or Kenosha’s own Alan “The Horse” Ameche, in 2021 you need a bit more to be a successful college student.
Take laptop computers, for example. They’re standard equipment for many of today’s college students. Students from middle-class and upper-class families show up to the first day of classes with laptops tucked in their backpacks.
Should the 6-foot-7 freshman from a poor family be denied a laptop just because his exceptional jump shot got him a scholarship?
Monday’s Supreme Court decision upholds the allowing of payments for things like musical instruments, scientific equipment, postgraduate scholarships, tutoring, study abroad, academic awards and internships, the Times reported.
And before the Chicken Littles of the college sports world cast their eyes skyward: The high court’s decision does not permit the outright payment of salaries.
Although it may be open to someone challenging the ban on paying such salaries. Kavanaugh seemed to welcome such a challenge.
“Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate,” Kavanaugh wrote. “And under ordinary principles of antitrust law, it is not evident why college sports should be any different. The NCAA is not above the law.
“The bottom line is that the NCAA and its member colleges are suppressing the pay of student-athletes who collectively generate billions (Kavanaugh’s emphasis) of dollars in revenues for colleges every year. Those enormous sums of money flow to seemingly everyone except the student-athletes. College presidents, athletic directors, coaches, conference commissioners and NCAA executives take in six- and seven-figure salaries. Colleges build lavish new facilities. But the student-athletes who generate the revenues, many of whom are African American and from lower-income backgrounds, end up with little or nothing.”
As parents who have signed tuition checks know: Free books, room and board is not nothing.
But to tell a student-athlete that, while pursuing the student half of “student-athlete,” she cannot accept a laptop or lab equipment as a gift when her family lacks the funds to pay for them? That does seem grossly unfair.
Whether Monday’s Supreme Court decision sets in motion the downfall of the NCAA as we know it remains to be seen. But we’re glad that, as a result of the decision, all of the kids on athletic scholarships can have the tools they need to pursue a degree.