Supreme Court NCAA Hearing: After decades of exploiting student-athletes, the NCAA has finally met its match. On Wednesday, March 31st the United States Supreme Court heard the opening oral arguments in National Collegiate Athletic Association v.
Alston, a case that will determine whether the NCAA’s rules restricting student-athlete compensation violate federal antitrust law. If you’re a human being with a heart and or a brain, seeing the NCAA dragged through the mud must have brought a smile to your face.
When it is broken down, the system of the NCAA makes little sense. A for-profit business model is utilized by a goliath not-for-profit organization that enforces a system of amateurism not seen anywhere else in the world. Seth Waxman, the NCAA’s attorney, was grilled as he fruitlessly tried to defend the NCAA’s position on amateurism.
Waxman baselessly claimed at one point “If you allow [athletes] to be paid, they will be spending even more time on their athletics and even less time on academics.”
Maxwell doubled down saying that because fans of college sports have seen players not being paid for so long that allowing the athletes to be paid would adversely impact the popularity and profitability of the enterprise. Essentially he told the justices that because college sports have always been this way and some people like it the NCAA should keep doing it this way.
In a court full of judges, nevertheless the highest ranking in the country, that argument got shot down very fast. From conservatives and liberals alike, each was tagging the other in as they took turns hitting Maxwell with argumentative RKO’s and People’s elbows. “You can only ride on the history, Mr. Waxman, for so long,” Justice Elena Kagan said. “… I guess it doesn’t move me all that much that there’s a history to this if what is going on now is that competitors, as to labor, are combining to fix prices.”
In a very surprising move, conservative Justice, Brett Kavanaugh also took the side of the athlete coming down on the NCAA for its practices “It does seem … the schools are conspiring with competitors, agreeing with competitors, to pay no salaries to the workers who are making the schools billions of dollars on the theory that consumers want the schools to pay their workers nothing. And that just seems entirely circular and even somewhat disturbing.”
Yet despite the uniformity the justices took against the NCAA, there are no guarantees in which way they will rule. Especially this early, we shouldn’t expect a decision till June at the latest.
As bold as the justices were in comprehensively picking apart Waxman’s arguments, they also expressed hesitancy to blow up college athletics for the fear of the repercussions it will have across universities.
It makes sense why the justices held back a little despite them being in unison on condemning the NCAA. I mean who wants their legacy from the Supreme Court to be commemorated in destroying March Madness and college football just as EA sports had announced the return of the College Football video game series.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor expressed her feelings on such a matter “How do we know we aren’t destroying the game as it is? This is a tough case for me … because it’s a unique product and it brings joy to a lot of people,” Justice Stephen Breyer said. “I worry about judges getting into the business of how amateur sports should be run.”
NCAA Exposed in Supreme Court
While many complain about the NCAA, few actually know how it works. Some fans think that it is this watchdog type organization with an evil headquarters where they plot how to profit off students and the schools watch helplessly.
It is not that at all. In reality the NCAA is made up of committees, work groups, councils, and cabinets. The members vote and delegate issues to specific committees. It is all very democratic and neat, the issue is the members are almost all employees of universities.
So when the Women’s basketball teams at the NCAA March Madness Tournament only had a single rack of dumbells for all 62 teams to “workout” with, it was their own universities letting that happen.
At the least, Wednesday morning showed how decades of ineffective leadership- across the NCAA, conference offices, and on campus- have left college sports holding up a complicated money machine. Rather than evolve, compromise, and change to accommodate the explosion of revenue those along the pipeline got greedy.
The cancellation of last year’s March Madness Tournament came out to be an $800 Million dollar loss for the NCAA. That is no small potatoes. Revenue for the college sports governing body was down $519 million in August 2020 according to audited financial statements. That’s a 54% drop from the $1.1 billion that the NCAA brought in the prior year.
There are good and bad that come with the NCAA. The money from March Madness is essential for small universities whose athletic departments operate on a deficit. Without the NCAA collecting that money and redistributing it, many programs would be too poor to field teams.
But the same issues with any big bureaucratic system are rampant in the NCAA. Everyone along the way has to get a cut of the pie and the trickle-down effect for the people at the bottom (this case the players) comes out to be crumbs despite them being the foundation of this pyramid.