OPINION: The Overdue Death Of ‘Amateurism’



A U.S. Supreme Court ruling last week may have signaled the beginning of the end of the NCAA and college athletics as we have come to know it, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

The Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in favor of the appellees in Alston v. NCAA, striking a decisive blow to the exploitive business model of collegiate athletics. The case itself was brought about by a group of athletes, including West Virginia running back Shawne Alston, who argued the NCAA had violated antitrust legislation by placing a cap on the compensation they could receive as part of their scholarships. At the moment, scholarships can only cover tuition, room, board and cost of attendance according to a report by CBS Sports.

The ruling stated that the NCAA could not limit the compensation of Division I athletes in basketball and football, so long as those benefits can be tied to the educational experience. Examples such as internships, study abroad opportunities, postgraduate scholarships and possibly even electronic equipment such as computers were among the types of benefits athletes may soon be able to receive. While it does not open the door as far as directly paying players, that door is very much ajar by even the most conservative reading of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion.

“The NCAA and its member colleges maintain important traditions that have become part of the fabric of America...but those traditions alone cannot justify the NCAA’s decision to build a massive money-raising enterprise on the backs of student athletes who are not fairly compensated,” Kavanaugh wrote. “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. And under ordinary principles of antitrust law, it is not evident why college sports should be any different.”

And for good measure, Kavanaugh ripped one more emphatic parting shot to the NCAA in his opinion.

“The NCAA is not above the law.”

Momentum is clearly building for more adequate compensation for student athletes, and the NCAA had better get on the right side of this fight or risk dissolution and a resulting power vacuum. According to the Business of College Sports, 19 states have signed into law “Name, Image and Likeness” (NIL) legislation designed to allow student athletes to pursue money-making ventures beyond what their scholarship provides. Wisconsin is not currently on that list. However, the University of Wisconsin announced earlier this June that they are working with Opendorse on an NIL readiness program called “YouDub.”

The impetus behind schools like UW-Madison getting behind these programs early is because they see which way the wind is blowing. Schools that do not embrace these changes risk losing recruits to schools that can offer more, and the NCAA should also move with similar urgency. Startup leagues and other attractive alternatives that allow for young athletes to cash in on their athletic achievements are bound to materialize.

The road ahead is full of obstacles, particularly in terms of generating equity in a business model that was often devoid of it. As Alston v. NCAA and future court battles clear the fog, the NCAA must work with athletes to prevent a labor dispute from escalating to a fight for their survival.

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