A federal appeals court on Wednesday struck down a plan to allow schools to pay players up to $5,000 while agreeing that the NCAA's use of college athletes' names, images and likenesses in video games and TV broadcasts violated antitrust laws.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the NCAA could not stop schools from providing full scholarships to student athletes but vacated a proposal for deferred cash payments in a case that came amid mounting public pressure for colleges to give athletes better benefits.
“The difference between offering student-athletes education-related compensation and offering them cash sums untethered to educational expenses is not minor; it is a quantum leap,” Judge Jay Bybee wrote. “Once that line is crossed, we see no basis for returning to a rule of amateurism and no defined stopping point.”
A statement from NCAA President Mark Emmert said the organization agrees with the court that “allowing students to be paid cash compensation of up to $5,000 per year was erroneous.”
“Since Aug. 1, the NCAA has allowed member schools to provide up to full cost of attendance; however, we disagree that it should be mandated by the courts,” he said.
Critics say the NCAA's scholarship policy short-changes athletes who risk injury and devote many hours to practice sessions, travel and competition.
The vast majority of college athletes do not go on to play professionally. Only 1.2 percent of men's college basketball players, for instance, go onto play in the NBA, according to NCAA statistics.
The NCAA had appealed U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken's 2014 decision to allow players in the top division of college football and in Division I men's basketball to be paid. The money would have been put in a trust fund and given to them when they left school.
More than 20 current and former athletes filed an antitrust class action against the NCAA. The lead plaintiff, Edward O'Bannon, won a national basketball championship with UCLA in 1995.
He testified during trial that he usually spent about 40-45 hours per week on basketball.
“I was an athlete masquerading as a student,” O'Bannon said in court.
Broadcasters including Walt Disney and CBS have rallied behind the NCAA, arguing in court filings that the idea each participant in a team sporting event has an individual right of publicity, which entitles them to compensation, “is simply wrong.”
The 9th Circuit said athletes have a right of publicity in video games, but it declined to decide whether they also have such rights in live TV broadcasts or archival footage.