It didn’t have to get here: Supreme Court hears Alston case
The NCAA could have given a little to avoid potentially being told they have to give a lot.
They could have let Zach Wilson hold a football camp in Provo. They could have let Paige Bueckers promote a product on Instagram to her nearly 800,000 followers. They could have let Jalen Suggs sign autographs at a Spokane pizza shop.
Instead, name, image and likeness (NIL) is now being dealt with by the bureaucracy in Washington. What could possibly go wrong?
On March 31, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments for NCAA v. Alston, a complicated case that at its core deals with athlete compensation in college athletics.
Each year, “student-athletes” arrive on college campuses, and some generate millions of dollars for their respective schools through lucrative television deals and appearances in postseason competition. In return, they receive tuition, room and board.
For many years, “consumers'' as Justice Brett Kavanaugh referred to them during the oral arguments, were content with the status quo. 20-year-olds did not need thousands of dollars. They were there for the love of the game. Plus, they were getting a free education. While there is certainly value in education for the majority of the athletes who do not play professional sports, that blanket line of thinking is largely outdated.
While player empowerment, including the recent #NotNCAAProperty movement that led to a meeting between NCAA President Mark Emmert and a few basketball players, has pushed athlete compensation into the spotlight, this is not a new issue.
The NCAA has a history of letting their disputes reach the courts, with the 1984 Board of Regents case being the most high-profile and the 2014 O’Bannon case being the most recent. This is not a very forward-looking organization, is it?
With Alston, once again, NCAA leadership punted their issues all the way to Washington.
This situation did not need to reach the highest court in the land. It did not need to reach the nation’s top governing body in Congress. It did not even need to reach state legislatures. But it did, and now Florida’s NIL bill is set to take effect on July 1 with many others currently in various stages of the legislative process in states across the country. Time is up.
So, the NCAA sent lawyer Seth Waxman up to Capitol Hill to be their punching bag.
The crux of Mr. Waxman’s argument was that this is how it has always been done. He said the word “procompetitive” too many times to count and touted the many opportunities and successes the NCAA has had since its founding in 1906, opportunities which are uniquely different from sports at a professional level.
His most publicized statement, issued during two basketball tournaments that had just bubbled student-athletes in Indiana and Texas for weeks, dripped with hypocrisy.
“Our own view is, if you allow [student-athletes] to be paid, they will be spending even more time on their athletics and devoting even less attention to academics” Waxman said. That’s pretty funny.
Waxman was very eloquently slammed by nearly all of the justices, both conservative and liberal. Even notoriously quiet Justice Clarence Thomas asked questions of Waxman.
“So, I guess it doesn’t move me all that much that there’s a history to this if what is going on now is that competitors as to labor are combining to fix prices,” said Justice Elena Kagan, an appointee of President Obama.
“Schools are conspiring with competitors, agreeing with competitors, I’ll say that, to pay no salaries to the workers who are making the schools billions of dollars on the theory that consumers want the school to pay their workers nothing. And that just seems entirely circular and even somewhat disturbing,” echoed President Trump-appointed Justice Kavanaugh.
There are a few months left of deliberation in Washington; they have said they will issue a ruling in June. This is a more conversative court, probably likely to issue more narrow rulings than sweeping, legislative branch-like verdicts. But don’t be surprised when the NCAA loses this case, and the floodgates open to a mess of patchwork solutions from various states altering the “procompetitive” environment to something unrecognizable. This could very easily get much worse before it gets better.
If only they hadn’t let it get here.