Whether the amateurism rules of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) violate federal antitrust laws remains an active issue before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. But the dramatic changes ordered by U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken to take effect for scholarship offers made starting on August 1, 2015, have been stayed by the Ninth Circuit panel considering the NCAA’s appeal.
In O’Bannon v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, Judge Wilken had ordered that the NCAA could no longer enforce its rules limiting payments to athletes and directed the NCAA to allow its members to pay male Division I football and basketball players up to $5,000 per year for “the licensing or use of … [their] names, images, and likenesses” in addition to the federally-defined “cost of attendance.” Judge Wilken denied the NCAA’s request for a stay pending the NCAA’s appeal; the Ninth Circuit heard oral argument on the case on March 17, 2015.
The plaintiffs and the NCAA had jointly moved that Judge Wilken’s injunction should take effect for scholarship offers made to players who would enroll after July 1, 2016. The first date for colleges to send written scholarship offer letters to student-athletes scheduled to enroll after July 1, 2016, would have been August 1, 2015.
In its July 17, 2015 motion for stay, the NCAA argued that the changes ordered by Judge Wilken would radically alter the amateurism which NCAA considers an essential quality of college sports, and “fundamentally alter the way in which colleges recruit high school students.” The Ninth Circuit’s terse order granted the stay “to preserve the status quo until this court’s mandate has issued.”
Based partly on the Supreme Court’s decision in National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, 468 U.S. 85 (1984)—which addressed the NCAA’s monopoly on television rights to collegiate football games—the NCAA argued that the district court had erred by failing to protect amateurism in college sports. In its 1984 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled against the NCAA, holding that it had engaged in restraint of trade. However, the court also stated that “in order to preserve the character and quality of the [NCAA’s] ‘product,’ athletes must not be paid.” Lawyers for the NCAA echoed this sentiment, arguing, “If allowed to take effect, the injunction would radically alter an essential quality of college sports, amateurism.”
As a result of the stay, the NCAA will not implement any changes to its rules in response to the district court’s injunction at this time. The Ninth Circuit—or, as hinted at by the NCAA, the Supreme Court—will determine whether players ultimately will be paid for the use of their names, images, or likenesses in addition to being eligible to receive scholarships which, beginning in the 2015 fall semester, may cover their full cost of attending school.