Just before the NCAA amended its rules to allow college athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL), the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in NCAA v. Alston. Due to the timing of the decision, many have mischaracterized this case as the case that led the NCAA to change its' NIL Rules. However, Alston did not cause the NCAA to change its' NIL rules. In fact, the Alston case had nothing to do with college athletes' NIL rights. Alston addressed whether the NCAA could limit the education-related benefits that college athletes could receive.
Summary of NCAA v. Alston
Former West Virginia football player, Shawne Alston and other college athletes sued the NCAA alleging that their rules limiting the amount of academic benefits athletes could receive violated federal antitrust law. The athletes argued that the NCAA could accomplish its' goal of preserving amateurism in a less restrictive manner. Specifically, the athletes argued that the NCAA could preserve amateurism by continuing to restrict non-education related benefits while allowing athletes to receive unlimited education related benefits.
The United States Supreme Court agreed. Due to this case, college athletes may now receive what has become known as Alston Awards. Alston Awards are educational and financial rewards provided to college athletes directly from their school. College athletes may receive up to $5,980 annually in Alston Awards. Education related benefits include musical instruments, computers, and scholarships for graduate or vocational school.
Alston Case Affect on NCAA Governance
The Alston case is not what led the NCAA to change its NIL rules. A series of state laws is responsible for that seismic shift in college athletics. However, the Alston decision has had a profound affect on the NCAA's governance since the decision was issued. The Alston decision did three very important things. One, the decision made it clear that the NCAA could not restrict the amount of education-related benefits college athletes could receive. Two, the decision made it clear that the NCAA's rules are subject to federal antitrust law. Three, the decision made it clear that the Supreme Court will not be granting the NCAA an antitrust law exemption.
These clarifications have profoundly affected how the NCAA has handled this new era of NIL in college athletics. The NCAA has been slow to enforce its rules regarding NIL largely due to fear of future lawsuits and pending lawsuits. The NCAA's fear of lawsuits has led the organization to spend much of its time lobbying Congress to grant it an antitrust law exemption. While the Alston case had nothing to do with college athletes rights to profit from their NIL, the case stands to have a profound indirect effect on NIL going forward.
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