Mar 31, 2021 - Sports

The NCAA goes to Washington

A photo of the Supreme Court building.

The Supreme Court building. Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

As the college sports world focuses on March Madness, the Supreme Court will hear a case this morning that could change the landscape of the NCAA.

Catch up quick: The 9th Circuit last year sided with former West Virginia RB Shawne Alston in his antitrust case against the NCAA, ruling that schools can provide unlimited academic-related expenses to their athletes.

Why it matters: If SCOTUS upholds that decision, it could open the door to a pay-for-play system in which schools compete for talent by shelling out thousands under the legal guise of education benefits.

The backdrop: Student-athlete compensation has been top of mind for years, but the glacial pace at which that's progressed continues to frustrate them.

  • Ahead of the tournament, some athletes took to social media to protest these inequities with the hashtag #NotNCAAProperty.
  • Meanwhile, right across the street from the Supreme Court, Congressional lawmakers continue to discuss federal name, image and likeness (NIL) legislation.

The big picture: In theory, the NCAA isn't against finding ways to secure compensation for its athletes as long as there are proper guardrails in place to ensure it maintains its aura of amateurism.

  • In that way, the NIL debate and cases like Alston's are similar, with the fear of transforming into a pay-for-play organization always seeming to get in the way of true progress.

The last word: "I don't think any decision the Supreme Court makes will be the silver bullet that resolves every major issue in college sports," Len Elmore, the former NBA star and current co-chair of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, tells Axios.

  • But progress is progress, and "anything that makes college athletes' experience a priority and works towards enhancing their education, health, safety and wellbeing is something we have to be in favor of."
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