Federal judge ends NCAA cap on athlete compensation 'related to education,' but leaves other limits unchanged

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A federal judge ruled Friday the NCAA can no longer “limit compensation or benefits related to education” for athletes playing in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision or in DI men’s and women’s basketball programs.

The news broke stating athletes may receive scholarships to complete undergraduate or graduate degrees at any school, according to USA Today.

However, the ruling does prevent athletes from receiving unlimited benefits.

The NCAA “may continue … to limit compensation and benefits that are unrelated to education,” district judge Claudia Wilken ruled. The association may also limit “academic or graduation awards of incentives, provided in cash or cash-equivalent.”

Wilken also said the NCAA may adopt a definition of both compensation and benefits “related to education,” according to the report.

The lawsuit was led by former West Virginia running back Shawne Alston and former Cal center Justine Hartman. 

The bulk of their argument was rooted in the NCAA’s system of capping the value of athletic scholarships, according to a report from Sports Illustrated. The class-action suit asserted the association unlawfully prevents conferences as well as individual colleges from competing with each other, and instead competing in other ways like spending millions of dollars on elite coaches or updates to stadiums and areas in lieu of paying athletes.

“It’s not everything we wanted, but it’s an important first step,” one of the plaintiffs’ lead attorneys told USA Today. “Schools will now have to compete — and we think they will compete — in offering student-athletes educational benefits, including grad school and other things like that. I think that’s going to be great for the student-athletes.”

Wilken is familiar with cases regarding the NCAA. She was the same judge in Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit which found the NCAA’s limits on what players in big-time college football and men’s programs can receive “unreasonably restrain trade” in violation of antitrust laws.

The 9th Circuit’s language in the O’Bannon case, USA Today noted, became the turning point for the Alston case.

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