What the NCAA ruling really means for student athletes

Flo Thamba of Baylor blocks a shot by Corey Kispert of Gonzaga in the championship game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

(CNN)In a decision that could shake up college sports, the Supreme Court ruled this week against the NCAA's restrictions on education-related perks for student athletes.

The case affirmed lower court rulings and further chipped away at the National Collegiate Athletic Association's power over the athletes who drive its revenue.
College athletics rake in billions of dollars through sales of tickets and merchandise plus lucrative TV contracts for high-profile sports like football and basketball. But the NCAA has long argued that restrictions on student athletes are necessary to ensure they maintain amateur status and don't blur the line between college and professional sports.
      "Over the years, they've convinced themselves and the public that these young students don't deserve a cut of the money," said Louis Moore, associate professor of history at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. "That the education for 'saving' them and bringing them to college is enough. I think a lot in the public have bought this narrative."
        The narrative is changing. We talked to some experts on what this new ruling means for student athletes and the future of college sports.

          The NCAA will find it more difficult to claim amateur status for student athletes

          The Supreme Court decision Monday was narrowly tailored around a case brought by a former West Virginia running back, Shawne Alston, and other players.
          The ruling will allow the athletes to receive education-related benefits such as graduate school tuition, study abroad opportunities, computers, tutoring, vocational school and achievement awards for their academic progress.
          But experts said it could also benefit student athletes by paving the way for more lucrative opportunities.
          Its impact will reverberate for years, one scholar said.
          "In the short term, the ruling will prevent the NCAA from limiting education-related benefits. In the medium and long terms, the NCAA's prized 'amateurism' defense is riddled with body blows," said Michael A. Carrier, a professor at Rutgers Law School.
          Look no further than the blistering opinion by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who accused the NCAA of acting "above the law" in how it treats athletes and questioned why the profits generated by college sports flow to everyone except the players themselves.
          Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh: "the NCAA is not above the law."
          "Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate," Kavanaugh wrote. "And under ordinary principles of antitrust law, it is not evident why college sports should be any different."
          Experts said that lawyers weighing future litigation against the NCAA over similar issues will be taking notes.
          "The Supreme Court made it crystal clear that the traditional form of antitrust analysis known as the rule of reason applies to the NCAA, which is not immune from scrutiny," Carrier said. "And Justice Kavanaugh raised significant concern about restraints even beyond the ones at issue in this case. It would not be a surprise to see future plaintiffs including direct quotes from his opinion."

          But the ruling still preserves a lot of the NCAA's power

          Kirsten Hextrum, an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma, said the Supreme Court's ruling comes with a lot of fine print.
          For starters, lawsuits originally challenged the NCAA's right to restrict all forms of athletes' compensation -- including those unrelated to education, said Hextrum, a former NCAA national champion rower and author of an upcoming book, "Special Admission: How College Athletic Recruitment Favors White Suburban Athletes."
          This week's ruling removes the NCAA's right to limit what constitutes an athletic scholarship, allowing college athletes to receive money for school and educational supplies, such as computers.
          "Whether schools in general will offer such rewards, and which ones will have the funding to do so, remain open questions," Hextrum said.
          But the Supreme Court only weighed in on education-related benefits, which leaves intact a lot of restrictions against compensating student athletes, Hextrum said.
          Confetti rains down on the court after Baylor defeated Gonzaga in the championship game of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on April 5.
          "The Supreme Court upheld the NCAA's general right to pass and enforce amateur rules," Hextrum said. "Such a ruling preserves the NCAA's power to monitor and dictate nearly every aspect of college athletes' lives, from where they can and cannot work, to their academic degree progress, to their dietary intake.
          "Most of all, the Supreme Court upheld the NCAA's right to restrict direct monetary rewards for athletes."
          In a statement on Monday, the NCAA said the ruling "reaffirms the NCAA's authority to adopt reasonable rules and repeatedly notes that the NCAA remains free to articulate what are and are not truly educational benefits."

          The decision could be a boost for student athletes of color

          A majority of NCAA student athletes -- roughtly 56% -- identify as White. But most of the star players in the two major revenue-generating sports -- football and men's basketball -- are Black and brown, said Moore, the Grand Valley State University professor.