Supreme Court Declines To Address Ruling On College Athletes

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to officiate the dispute between the NCAA and college athletes Monday over revenue from sports telecasts and video games, leaving intact a lower-court ruling that said the NCAA violates antitrust laws by denying compensation to players — but doesn’t have to pay them anything beyond the cost of attending school.

Both the NCAA and a group of former college football and men’s basketball players had appealed the September 2015 ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. That ruling found that the NCAA’s ban on all forms of compensation for the commercial use of athletes’ names and images, a multibillion-dollar enterprise, was a form of price-fixing that illegally limited competition among schools seeking to recruit future stars.

But in the same ruling, the appeals court voted 2-1 to reverse a federal judge’s order that NCAA place up to $5,000 a year in trust for the former football and basketball players, to be collected when they graduate or use their college eligibility. Though the NCAA can compensate athletes by increasing their scholarship aid to equal the full cost of going to school, the court majority said, any payments resembling salaries would erase the crucial distinction between amateurs and professionals.

The Supreme Court denied review of both appeals Monday, without comment or any indication of dissenting votes. The appeals court order remains in effect for federal courts in California and eight other Western states, but the relationship between athletes and college sports’ governing body is being contested in other cases, including one in Oakland contesting the NCAA’s limits on the size of athletic scholarships.

The NCAA’s chief legal officer, Donald Remy, said in a statement that the appeals court ruling recognized that “amateurism is an essential component of college sports and that NCAA members should not be forced by the courts to provide benefits untethered to education.” He said the organization denies violating antitrust laws and will defend that position in other cases.

In a separate case, the NCAA and video-game-maker Electronic Arts are paying $60 million to thousands of former college athletes in a settlement for the uncompensated use of their names and images.

About two dozen football and basketball players, led by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, filed suit in 2009 against the NCAA’s rules that prohibit member schools from paying athletes any share of the revenue they generate in telecasts and video games. After a three-week trial in 2014,during which O’Bannon testified that he had been “an athlete masquerading as a student” at UCLA, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken of Oakland declared the compensation ban illegal.

Wilken noted that college football coaches made an average of more than $1.5 million a year and that the NCAA, since its establishment in 1906, had changed its definition of amateurism many times. She stopped short of ordering open-ended payments to the athletes, saying big salaries were not needed to promote competition and might alienate the public, but gave the NCAA the option of increasing scholarships to the full costs of attendance or establishing the $5,000-a-year trust funds.

In last year’s ruling that found antitrust violations but rejected the $5,000 payment option, appeals court Judge Jay Bybee said, “Not paying student-athletes is precisely what makes them amateurs,” a status that enhances competition among NCAA schools and “increases their appeal to consumers.”

The Supreme Court case is O’Bannon vs. NCAA, 15-1167, and NCAA vs. O’Bannon, 15-1388.

Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: begelko@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @egelko

Court rejects NFL team’s appeal

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a long-shot appeal from the Washington Redskins challenging a law that bars offensive trademarks, although the justices could resolve the same issue in another pending case.

The court turned away the team’s unusual request to have its case heard before a federal appeals court in Virginia weighs in. The team is appealing the government’s decision to cancel its trademarks over concerns the nickname disparages Native Americans.

Neither team President Bruce Allen nor team spokesman Tony Wyllie immediately responded to requests for comment Monday.

In a separate case, the justices will decide whether the trademark law violates the First Amendment. That case involves the Slants, an Asian American rock band that was denied a trademark on the grounds that its name disparages Asians. A federal appeals court sided with the band. The team wanted both cases heard together.

Associated Press


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