On June 21, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously affirmed an injunction that invalidated National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) restrictions on education-related compensation and benefits member schools may grant to student athletes, finding that the NCAA was not exempt from antitrust law and that the lower courts had applied the correct standard of scrutiny.
Notwithstanding the injunction, the NCAA may still impose certain compensation restrictions, and individual conferences and schools retain considerable leeway to enforce strict limits.
The High Court weighed in on the fierce debate over student-athlete compensation, with the justices unanimously affirming an injunction that struck down NCAA restrictions on education-related compensation and benefits for student athletes in NCAA v. Alston, et al., No. 20-512 (June 21, 2021). However, the ruling permits the NCAA to continue to restrict compensation unrelated to education, including, among other things, the maximum amount of athletic scholarships. Moreover, the Court acknowledged that the injunction – issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California after a 10-day bench trial and then upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit – permits the NCAA to define the scope of “education-related benefits” and “seek modification of the court’s injunction to reflect that definition.”
Alston also leaves individual conferences and their member schools free to impose restrictions tighter than those the NCAA is now permitted to impose, and does not prohibit the NCAA from assisting conferences and schools with enforcing those rules.
The list below provides tangible examples of the types of compensation the NCAA may and may not restrict following Alston*:
Education-related compensation no longer subject to NCAA restrictions (though potentially still regulated by conferences or schools):
- Post-eligibility undergraduate, graduate, and vocational school scholarships
- Post-eligibility paid internships by conferences or schools
- Tutoring payments
- Study-abroad expenses
- Computer equipment
- Science equipment
- Musical instruments
* The above list draws from examples provided in Alston and lower court rulings of the types of compensation restrictions the NCAA is enjoined from imposing. Note that the definition of “education-related” compensation is still subject to further rulemaking by the NCAA.