Review: The Alston v. NCAA Impact
By: Anthony Studnicka
Last March, one of the most important legal cases against the NCAA ever was decided, and frankly, it went way too far under the radar. This example is yet another instance that weighs in favor of shifting the paradigm in support of amateur athletes’ rights.
The case was Alston v. NCAA.
In this case, a federal court in California held that the NCAA is unable to bar institutions from providing players compensation and benefits. However, these benefits do not include cash. Rather, they include things related to education. While how narrow or wide this scope may be is unclear, things like a computer would surely fall into this category. The decisions on what benefits are to be provided to individual students will be left up to the individual institutions.
Things that are important to emphasize about this case are that (1) the NCAA’s rule-making authority took a large blow, as this was likely the most prominent lawsuit they have faced since Ed O’Bannon’s. And (2) compliance officers employed at institutions across the country job functions may have just gotten even more difficult. This is because, as stated previously, it is unclear the scope of how far the compensation and benefits related to education standard extends, although it seems clear that it must relate to the athlete’s education.
Similar to O’Bannon, the Alston allegation rested on an antirust claim. Alston alleged that the NCAA improperly violated federal antitrust law by limiting college athletes to cost-of-attendance scholarships. The NCAA responded that their rules were necessary in order to maintain interest in college sports. The court disagreed and determined the NCAA could accomplish that through less restrictive means. Further, on appeal, the appeals court affirmed the lower court’s decision and remarked that this decision will not adversely affect consumer interest in college sports and that the NCAA could still keep college sports separate from professional sports.
Compliance staff nationwide now has an additional potential complication they must oversee. The scope of what may relate to an athlete’s education, while seems narrow through this opinion, is ultimately unclear. While it seems pretty straightforward that this day in age a laptop would qualify as something a college student may need, what else is necessary or even useful may not be as easy to determine. Would renting a private tutor extend here? Would buying an expensive pair of headphones to help study qualify? What else can be included in this? Surely a car at a large campus could enhance a student’s accessibility to educational resources. But that example clearly seems to be outside of the intended scope.
It seems wildly illogical that the NCAA would prevail on their claim that providing students educational related benefits such as a laptop would deter consumer interest in college sports. While the NCAA clearly has an interest in preserving amateurism, and obviously needed some sort of defense, this argument seemed dead in the water before it even had a chance. Next time, and there will be a next time, likely sooner rather than later, the NCAA must craft more compelling arguments. The “preserving amateurism” argument has failed multiple times since the 1980’s (see NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma) and seems destined to continue to. The shift in favor of power for amateur athletes has not only began, but it is picking up momentum quickly. The NCAA will surely have more battles with arguments similar to this coming down the pipeline, and must craft more compelling justifications.
Anthony is a third-year student at Arizona State University pursuing a J.D. and a Master of Sports Law & Business. He is the creator of Long Run Sports.
 Alex Kirshner, The NCAA’s Scholarship Rules Are Now Illegal, But Players Still Won’t Get Paid, SBNation (March. 9, 2019),https://www.sbnation.com/2018/9/18/17872150/ncaa-case-verdict-ruling-explained.  Id.  Id.  Id.  Kassandra Ramey, NCAA Suffers Blow In Alston v NCAA Scholarship Cost Of Attendance Case, Unafraid Show (June. 8, 2020), https://unafraidshow.com/ncaa-suffers-blow-in-alston-v-ncaa-appeal-cost-of-attendance/.  Id.  Id.  Id.  Id.