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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday in favor of college athletes who want to have access to compensation or benefits such as scholarships, paid internships or computers, which until now were vetoed.
By a 9-0 vote, the Justices ruled against National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules that limited the educational benefits available to college athletes who had received an athletic scholarship for their higher education.
The NCAA argued that such restrictive rules were necessary to preserve the “amateur” image of college sports such as college football and basketball, which are widely followed throughout the country.
The athletes who filed the lawsuit alleged that, in practice, the NCAA was operating a system that violated U.S. “antitrust” laws, while the association insisted that it should be exempt from such legislation because its vocation was not professional.
Last year, a federal appeals court agreed with the plaintiffs, and while it did not allow them to be paid salaries directly, it did indicate that the NCAA could not limit their access to benefits such as musical instruments, scientific equipment, study abroad, academic awards or scholarships.
The Supreme Court agreed with that interpretation, finding that “the NCAA’s business model would be directly illegal in any other industry in the United States,” in the words of conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“All restaurants in a region cannot join together to cut cooks’ wages on the theory that ‘customers prefer’ to eat food prepared by underpaid chefs,” Kavanaugh argued in a brief.
The court’s decision could have a “transformative” effect on college sports in the United States, Amy Perko, executive director of the independent Knight Commission on Athletic Education, told NPR radio station.
If each league in each college sport sets its own limits on educational compensation for its athletes, there will be competition among them, and an athlete who doesn’t like the benefits of one might rely on that to choose a college that is part of another league, she said.