Supreme Court ruling opens door for colleges to offer expanded benefits

Colleges might be allowed to provide their athletes with more education-related benefits -- including school equipment, travel opportunities and cash incentives -- as soon as this week.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied on Tuesday an NCAA request to pause a ruling in a lower court that opens the door for athletes to receive expanded benefits. The NCAA said it intends to comply with the ruling, which could go into effect immediately or 90 days from now, depending on how a judge's decision from months ago is enforced.

"As a practical matter, this is great for all athletes," said Jeffrey Kessler, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to this decision. "It's coming. The train has arrived and it's brought terrific new benefits for all these athletes."

Kessler first filed suit on behalf of West Virginia football player Shawne Alston in 2014. California-based federal judge Claudia Wilken ruled that the NCAA was breaking antitrust law by enforcing a nationwide limit on what schools could provide to their athletes as compensation for playing sports. Wilken's decision said that the NCAA could no longer limit what benefits a school could give its athletes as long as the benefits were related to education. Examples of education-related items include laptops, musical instruments, study-abroad opportunities and monetary rewards for academic achievements.

The NCAA's Division I Council is scheduled to meet tomorrow with the intention of creating new rules that comply with Wilken's decision.

"The NCAA will comply with the injunction as required. Indeed, the Division I Council will meet tomorrow to put in place an immediate implementation plan," NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said in a statement Tuesday.

The council cannot create a rule that places any limit on the material educational items a school provides to its players. It can, however, set a ceiling for the amount of money schools can give to players as rewards for academic achievement. Conferences and individual schools can set further limits if they choose to do so.

Wilken made her decision in March 2019. The NCAA appealed the decision in the Ninth Circuit Court but lost that challenge this past May. The association intends to appeal next to the Supreme Court and has until mid-October to file a brief to that effect. The Supreme Court then decides if it will hear the case.

"Given the adverse impact of the 9th Circuit's decision on college athletics, the legal reasoning of the lower courts' decisions, and the conflict created with other federal circuits, notwithstanding the failure to secure a stay, we will ask the Supreme Court to review the legal errors," Remy said in his statement.

The NCAA filed a motion last week asking the Supreme Court to pause the start of these new benefits being distributed until the justices have an opportunity to decide if they'll hear the appeal. The Supreme Court denied that request Tuesday morning, which means Wilken's ruling will soon go into effect.

Kessler, the plaintiffs' attorney, said he believes the justices' decision not to grant the NCAA's request for a stay might be a harbinger of whether it will hear the appeal at all. The NCAA previously asked the Supreme Court to hear another antitrust lawsuit that originated in Wilken's courtroom (O'Bannon v. NCAA). The Supreme Court declined to take on that appeal.