Supreme Court

The sun rises behind the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 29.

Ben Siegel, an attorney involved in one of the most pivotal legal battles in sports history, read aloud the final sentence of a Supreme Court decision that is expected to change the future of how college athletes are compensated.

"The NCAA is not above the law," Siegel read.

He paused.

"That to me sums up the whole opinion," Siegel said.

The final sentence, written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, concluded a 45-page decision on NCAA v. Alston in which the Supreme Court unanimously ruled Monday that the NCAA can no longer ban schools from providing college athletes education-related benefits.

Restrictions against such benefits — such as offering laptops, educational equipment access or offering players scholarships even after their eligibility expires — violated antitrust laws, the court agreed in its 9-0 decision, although the NCAA argued that its rules restricting compensation were necessary because the rules define what college sports are.

All parties agreed the NCAA controls a monopoly over student-athlete labor. The NCAA didn't contest this. And upholding a shaky definition of college amateurism was not enough of a reason for the court to allow the NCAA to continue restricting education-related benefits when college athletes had no other competitive option to choose from.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion that they would not "overlook its restrictions because they happen to fall at the intersection of higher education, sports, and money."

There will be influences in both the short term and long term.

Almost immediately, conference and school athletic officials began discussing how they will address education-related benefits within their leagues and institutions. The Supreme Court only banned an overarching, national NCAA rule, which means conferences and schools can still make rules of their own.

Tulane athletic director Troy Dannen said he's already discussed the possibilities of leveraging the school's graduate school programs. In a sport like baseball — in which the Green Wave only gets 11.7 scholarships to spread across a roster of 34 players — the athletic department might be able to offer players more educational opportunities at the end of their eligibility.

Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey released a statement Monday that said the league would be engaging with its member schools "to consider the implications" of the Supreme Court ruling.

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Sankey's statement seemed to touch more on the long term implications of NCAA v. Alston, a jarring ruling from the nation's highest court which delivered harsh criticisms and pointed language that likely provides precedent for future player compensation lawsuits against the NCAA.

Kavanaugh's concurring opinion, legal experts said, shows most clearly the road that may lie ahead. He wrote "there are serious questions" that the NCAA's remaining compensation rules can hold up when faced with the same legal scrutiny, and he challenged the NCAA's definition of amateurism and its reasoning for not paying its players.

"The NCAA couches its arguments for not paying student athletes in innocuous labels," Kavanaugh wrote. "But the labels cannot disguise the reality: The NCAA's business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America. All of the restaurants in a region cannot come together to cut cooks' wages on the theory that 'customers prefer' to eat food from low-paid cooks... Price fixing labor is price fixing labor."

Marc Edelman, professor of law at Baruch College's Zickland School of Business, said "the writing is on the wall" that colleges and athletes will now challenge other NCAA restrictions on compensations that aren't education-related.

"It's not just the outer fringes of the NCAA restraints that are illegal," said Edelman, who has practiced antitrust law with attorneys representing both sides in NCAA v. Alston. "It's something closer to the whole shabang."

There's a lineage of court cases stacking up, Edelman said.

O'Bannon v. NCAA ruled that the NCAA was violating antitrust laws by using college athlete images and likenesses in video games without compensating the athletes.

That paved the way for the widespread name, image and likeness laws that are still making their way through state and national legislative systems, as well as being the focus of another legal battle, House v. NCAA, which argues the NCAA is violating antitrust laws by not allowing players to take advantage of their popularity on social media in exchange for compensation.

Steve Berman, an attorney in House v. NCAA who also counseled in the Alston case, told ESPN that his law firm is now considering amending the House case to challenge any restrictions on schools paying athletes.

Siegel, an attorney on the House case, agreed there could be challenges to other rules.

"I think it's an open question about whether or not we look at the other rules, whether it makes sense to challenge them," Siegel said. "The decision is still fresh. We're certainly considering all the options that are available to us."

Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.