Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan on Tuesday denied the NCAA’s request for a stay of an injunction that will end association-wide limits on education-related benefits that college athletes can receive.
Barring the NCAA’s ability to convince U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken to change the injunction’s effective date, Kagan’s ruling sets the stage for at least one recruiting cycle in which schools will be able to decide on a conference-level basis whether to allow offers to football, men’s basketball and/or women’s basketball players that go beyond covering the full cost of attending school.
Wilken issued the injunction in March 2019, when she ruled that that the NCAA’s limits on what Bowl Subdivision football players and Division I men’s and women’s basketball players can receive for playing sports “unreasonably restrain trade” in violation of antitrust laws. The case was brought on behalf of plaintiffs led by former West Virginia football player Shawne Alston.
The injunction said that it would take effect 90 days after Wilken’s ruling, but it also said that if the NCAA appealed, the injunction would not take effect until after an appellate court issued a formal order mandating that the injunction go forward.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the ruling and the injunction in May, then last week denied the NCAA’s request for a stay of the injunction. Its formal order concerning the injunction is scheduled to be issued Tuesday.
The NCAA has said it will ask the full Supreme Court to take up the case, but it wanted to keep the injunction from taking effect pending the final outcome, saying in a filing last week that “even if just one class” was impacted by the injunction, it would inflict “profound, irreparable harm on the important national institution of intercollegiate athletics.”
Even if Supreme Court chooses to hear the case, its calendar for October already is full – and it usually takes months to issue rulings. The early National Letter of Intent signing period for basketball players currently is set for Nov. 11-18 and the early signing period for football players is set for Dec. 16-18.
Kagan’s decision will force the NCAA, the conferences and the plaintiffs’ lawyers to begin sifting through an array of details left open by the injunction, which creates the possibility of schools offering athletes in three sports covered any or all of the following:
►Cash or cash-equivalent awards for meeting academic goals and/or graduating, under some constraints.
►Paid internships after an athlete’s eligibility has ended.
►Scholarships to complete undergraduate or graduate degrees at any school.
►The cost of computers, science equipment, musical instruments or other items not included in schools’ cost-of-attendance calculations, but that are related to academics.
The injunction allows any conference to limit which, if any, of these benefits its schools may offer, but no conference can set its limits as part of “an agreement with any other conference.” This could be a critical point as schools and conferences grapple with the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, the NCAA can seek to adopt a definition of compensation and benefits that are “related to education” that is different from the injunction’s, but that definition would be subject to Wilken’s approval.
Also, the injunction does not provide a dollar figure for the maximum amount of money that schools would be able to offer as academic or graduation incentives. It indexes the maximum against the NCAA’s combined maximum value of awards athletes can receive for winning a letter, championships or other special achievement awards. Various legal filings from the NCAA have mentioned $5,600 a year as the maximum, but the plaintiffs have argued that the figure could be more than double that amount.