The landscape of college sports is getting ready to change pretty drastically in the coming years.
On Monday, the Supreme Court unanimously sided with former West Virginia running back Shawne Alston and other ex-college student-athletes in a dispute with the NCAA over compensation. The court upheld a district court’s decision that the NCAA was violating antitrust laws by limiting the education-related benefits that institutions can provide to its athletes.
For the past several years, athletes have pushed back on the NCAA’s version of amateurism. Simply put, college athletes believe they deserve to financially benefit from the money they help bring to the school. And while this recent Supreme Court decision doesn’t mean money in their pockets, I, as a former University of Virginia women’s basketball player, believe it is a step in the right direction.
For several decades, college athletes have spoken out about the lack of monetary support aside from their athletics responsibilities. Thanks to the NCAA Student Athletes’ Major Judgment, schools can provide unlimited compensation if it’s related to the athlete’s education. This includes things like funding the costs of joining a study-abroad program, paid internship or a laptop.
Monday’s news was greeted by cheers from many former and current athletes, including former Clemson football player Martin Jenkins, who told NPR the ruling is a win but there’s “still a long road to go.”
In 2014, Jenkins sued the NCAA, and his case was one of several lawsuits included in the SCOTUS ruling. While he admits rules, over time, have changed for the better for student-athletes, what he dealt with was the reality for many.
“They've changed since. But back around 2010, it was a lot more limited than it is even now,” Jenkins told NPR’s Ari Shapiro. “And so as far as something as simple as feeding us meals — I mean, obviously, we're athletes working out two, sometimes three times a day. The NCAA could only feed us, at the time, one meal per day, right? And compensation-wise, there really, really wasn't a whole lot there — you know, maybe enough money to pay for gas to and from practice, maybe get a couple groceries here and there. But as far as, you know, either living off campus or on campus, there really wasn't a ton of support coming from the NCAA in that regard.”
Jenkins was part of a football program that brought in over $30 million in the 2010-11 season, according BusinessofCollegeSports.com. So imagine what it was like for student-athletes at smaller Division I schools.
Jenkins admits being conflicted about whether the NCAA prioritizes athletics over academics. Luckily, my coaches at the University of Virginia instilled in me and my teammates the importance of our education before stepping foot on campus. However, for high-revenue generating sports like men’s basketball and football, it’s hard to overlook the growing revenue versus the lack of educational monetary benefits provided from the school due to NCAA compliance rules.
Jade Baker, a former Virginia track and field athlete and current Georgetown law student, praised the SCOTUS decision.
“This ruling, though narrow, is the crucial first step to the end of student-athlete exploitation on behalf of the NCAA,” Baker told Bally Sports. “The Supreme Court has reminded the NCAA that student welfare should be their top priority, and it is about time.”
Now that this landmark ruling has taken place, former and current athletes and coaches are wondering, "What’s next?" Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey shared his opinion on how to move forward.
“The Supreme Court’s opinion today in the Alston case provides clarity as we move forward to provide additional educational-related benefits to student-athletes,” Sankey said in a statement on Monday. “What also is clear is the need for the continuing evaluation of the collegiate model consistent with the Court’s decision and message.
"Our next step is to engage with our member institutions to consider the implications of the opinion delivered today by the Court and to continue our tradition of providing superior educational and competitive opportunities while effectively supporting our student-athletes.”
That’s a thought-provoking response from the commissioner of college football's preeminent conference. Many former college athletes I have spoken with would prefer Baker’s suggestion in regard to the larger ask for student-athletes to be paid.
“The next step falls to another branch of government: Congress must past legislation allowing and regulating athletes’ ability to profit off their own Name, Image, and Likeness," Sankey said. "I think that (Shawne) Alston will help athletes towards that landmark.”