Steve Berkowitz, USA TODAY Published 7:23 p.m. ET July 6, 2020 | Updated 7:38 a.m. ET July 7, 2020
Sports Pulse: The NCAA is taking steps towards allowing players to finally make some money USA TODAY
The NCAA on Monday said it will ask the Supreme Court to take up a case in which a district judge and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have ruled that the NCAA cannot have association-wide limits on education-related benefits that college athletes can receive.
The NCAA, along with its 11 major-conference co-defendants, made the disclosure in a filing that asks the 9th Circuit to stay an injunction issued in March 2019 by U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken. Wilken’s injunction is set to take effect soon after the 9th Circuit formally mandates that it go forward, a step that is scheduled Wednesday.
While Monday’s filing is not the NCAA’s formal petition to the high court — that will not be due until Oct. 15 — it provides the contours of the association’s arguments for why the justices should hear the case and overturn the decisions made so far. The NCAA contends that the 9th Circuit’s decision conflicts with decisions of the Supreme Court and other federal appellate courts and deals with “an important question of law.”
The NCAA could be headed to the Supreme Court. (Photo: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)
The case was brought on behalf of plaintiffs led by former West Virginia football player Shawne Alston. Among the items Wilken said those athletes may receive were scholarships to complete undergraduate or graduate degrees at any school. The judge also appeared to open the possibility of athletes being able to receive cash or cash-equivalent awards based on academics or graduation, albeit under some constraints.
However, the appellate panel of Sidney R. Thomas, Ronald M. Gould and Milan D. Smith Jr. declined to broaden the ruling, as the plaintiffs had requested, leaving intact the NCAA’s limits on compensation not connected to education.
The NCAA maintains that if the 9th Circuit’s ruling stands, “The NCAA and its member schools and conferences will no longer have the flexibility to adopt what in their judgment are appropriate and nationally uniform eligibility rules to preserve the traditional amateur character of college sports.
“Instead, they … face an unending string of litigation that will not only transfer substantial control over intercollegiate athletics away from those with experience and expertise in the field, but also reduce the funds available to provide opportunities and services to student-athletes.”
With regard to conflicts with prior Supreme Court rulings, the NCAA mainly points to the high court’s decision in NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, a case relating to control of football television rights that the high court decided in 1984. The NCAA lost that case, but – as it has in many other legal filings over the years – pointed Monday to language from that ruling that says “NCAA rules that prohibit student-athletes from being eligible if they are paid to play are essential if (the NCAA’s) ‘product’—an amateur intercollegiate sports league—is to be available at all.”
Wilken and the 9th Circuit have viewed that language as a type of legal commentary that does not constitute binding precedent.
As for conflicts with rulings of other federal appeals courts, the NCAA maintains that other courts have dismissed antitrust challenges to the association’s limits on athlete compensation without undertaking the detailed level of analysis in which the 9th Circuit and Wilken engaged in this case. The NCAA argues that “the decision here entrenches that division” in legal approach, so there is reason for the Supreme Court to step in.
The NCAA also maintains that the case merits the Supreme Court’s attention because “intercollegiate athletics as overseen by the NCAA is a major feature of American life. … And each year, millions of fellow students, alumni, faculty, and other fans watch NCAA competitions, including March Madness and football bowl games, either in person or through regional and national broadcasts. For decades, a hallmark of these competitions has been what Board of Regents called ‘a revered tradition of amateurism,’ one that ‘adds richness and diversity to intercollegiate athletics.’ “
The NCAA maintains that decision in Board of Regents requires that it be given “ample latitude” to maintain the tradition of amateurism and “this latitude includes leeway for (the NCAA) to decide what rules preserve and promote amateurism, while accounting for the ever-evolving circumstances in which schools and student-athletes participate in intercollegiate athletics.”
No. 18: Tony Bennett, Virginia: $3,307,500 – The Cavaliers won their first NCAA championship last season and Bennett received a two-year contract extension. So, how is he making less this season than he did last season, when he made $4.15 million, not including $1.25 million in incentive bonuses? Last year, he qualified for a $1 million retention payment, and, according to the school’s announcement of his new agreement, he turned down a pay raise larger than the 5% annual increase he is guaranteed. If he remains at U-Va., he would get retention payments of $400,000 in 2021; $1 million in 2023 and $400,000 in 2025. Amber Searls, USA TODAY Sports
No. 25: Dana Altman, Oregon: $3,100,000 – Altman received a three-year contract extension after last season that added $100,000 to the $200,000 increase he already had been scheduled to get for this season. He’s now set for a raise of $225,000 next season and then increases of $300,000 and $250,000 in the following two seasons. His perks continue to include, upon presentation of proper receipts, up to $25,000 a year to reimburse him for travel expenses by him to visit friends or relatives, travel expenses by him to have relatives or friends visit, or travel expenses by him to have friends or relatives attend Oregon athletic events. Soobum Im, USA TODAY Sports
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