How Supreme Court’s NCAA decision could affect ACC schools like UNC, Duke and NC State

It’s too early to tell just what kind of immediate impact the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling against the NCAA on Monday will have for area schools. What is certainly clear is their need to be proactive about a rapidly changing landscape in college athletics.

The Supreme Court upheld a federal appeals court decision in NCAA vs. Alston that the NCAA could not limit educational benefits for Division I football and basketball players. In and of itself, it is a narrow ruling that could pave the way for postgraduate scholarships, study abroad programs and something as simple as a laptop as an educational expense offered to athletes. But Duke professor Paul Haagen said the ruling laid the groundwork for potentially much bigger changes in the NCAA’s amateur model.

“This is, for the cultural world of the Triangle, a big deal,” said Haagen, the co-director of the Center for Sports Law and Policy at Duke Law School.

Haagen pointed out the wording in the opinion of the court and a concurring opinion. The NCAA can’t set limitations for educational expenses, but that doesn’t mean a conference could not.

“The ACC conceivably could (set limits), because the ACC does not have market power,” Haagen said. “It just can’t be a single rule. Now at that point, the ACC is going to have to compete for players with the SEC and as the SEC has different rules. Well, then, maybe it’s hard to compete. It will mean that a lot of institutions are going to have to rethink their commitment to participating in intercollegiate sports.”

Name, image and likeness laws and the ACC

Laws allowing college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness (NIL) are about to go into effect next month in several states including Florida. Miami and Florida State could potentially gain a recruiting advantage over the rest of the ACC in states which have yet to enact a law.

It’s why N.C. state senator Wiley Nickel was the primary sponsor for a bill (SB 324) that would allow athletes to profit off NIL. But so far it’s been buried in the Senate Rules Committee.

“Nineteen states have passed name, image, and likeness bills and six have laws that go into effect in July,” Nickel said in a statement. “Unless we act quickly, North Carolina schools will start losing key recruits to states like Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina who have signed name, image, and likeness bills into law.”

UNC and N.C. State have taken some steps to be ready when the change comes. Both have signed deals with INFLCR, a software company based in Durham, to help their athletes build personal brands and be prepared to market them.

UNC on Monday released a statement from athletic director Bubba Cunningham: “Carolina will continue to work to provide our students a great educational experience while participating in intercollegiate athletics. The economic model may change, and we will look for innovative ways to modify our program as this new era of college athletics begins.”

Duke and N.C. State had not released statements or responded to requests from The News & Observer for comment as of Monday afternoon.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s opinion on NCAA

Justice Neil Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the Court. But it was Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion that seemingly laid out an invitation for further challenges to the NCAA by stating that amateurism is not a defense:

“The NCAA’s business model of using unpaid student athletes to generate billions of dollars in revenue for the colleges raises serious questions under the antitrust laws. In particular, it is highly questionable whether the NCAA and its member colleges can justify not paying student athletes a fair share of the revenues on the circular theory that the defining characteristic of college sports is that the colleges do not pay student athletes. And if that asserted justification is unavailing, it is not clear how the NCAA can legally defend its remaining compensation rules.”

Barring an act of Congress to pass legislation to protect or preserve the NCAA model, college athletics may be in store for more litigation and more layers stripped that stop athletes from getting paid.

“It is our hope that this victory in the battle for college athletes’ rights will carry on a wave of justice uplifting further aspects of athlete compensation,” Steve Berman, the lead attorney for the plantiffs in the Alston case, said in a statement. “This is the fair treatment college athletes deserve.”

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