Judge rules against NCAA in federal antitrust lawsuit

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A judge has ruled against the NCAA in a federal antitrust lawsuit, saying football and basketball players should be permitted to receive more compensation from schools but only if the benefits are tied to education.

The ruling Friday night from U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken in Oakland, California, said the NCAA cannot “limit compensation or benefits related to education.”

The plaintiffs in the so-called Alston cases were seeking much more. Plaintiffs had asked the judge to lift all NCAA caps on compensation and to allow schools to provide benefits beyond a scholarship to college athletes. The goal was to create a free market, where conferences set rules for compensating athletes, but this ruling still allows the NCAA to prohibit cash compensation untethered to education-related expenses.

The claim was against the NCAA and the 11 conferences that have competed in the highest level of college football.

“We have proven to the court that the NCAA’s weak justifications for this unfair system are based on a self-serving mythology that does not match the facts,” said Steve Berman, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

Late Friday evening, the NCAA released a statement from its chief legal officer Donald Remy: 

“The court’s decision recognizes that college sports should be played by student-athletes, not by paid professionals.  The decision acknowledges that the popularity of college sports stems in part from the fact that these athletes are indeed students, who must not be paid unlimited cash sums unrelated to education. NCAA rules actively provide a pathway for tens of thousands of student-athletes each year to receive a college education debt-free.

 Although the court rejected the plaintiffs’ desire for a free market system, we will explore our next steps as appropriate. We believe the ruling is inconsistent with the decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in O’Bannon. That decision held that the rules governing college athletics would be better developed outside the courtroom, including rules around the education-related support that schools provide.”

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