The Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to take up an appeal by the National Collegiate Athletic Association to a lower court ruling that allows colleges to compensate athletes for education-related expenses.
A panel of judges on the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year that the NCAA violated federal antitrust law when it barred schools from certain expenditures for student athletes, and in August, Justice Elana Kagan denied a request from the group to freeze the circuit court's ruling, clearing the way for it to go into effect.
"Even as the debate over paying college athletes has unfolded across the country -- and in the lower courts -- the Supreme Court has, until now, stayed out of it. The decision to take up this issue today does not signal how the court is likely to come out, but certainly tees up a major ruling on the issue by the beginning of next summer," said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
The group praised the court's decision on Wednesday, saying it's pleased the justices "will review the NCAA's right to provide student-athletes with the educational benefits they need to succeed in school and beyond."
"The NCAA and its members continue to believe that college campuses should be able to improve the student-athlete experience without facing never-ending litigation regarding these changes," Donald Remy, a lawyer for the group, said in a statement.
In court briefs, lawyers for the NCAA asked the court to step in, arguing that "rules that limit 'eligibility' to enrolled students who are not paid to play are justifiable means of fostering competition among amateur athletic teams and therefore procompetitive for purposes of antitrust challenges."
The case, which marks the latest battle concerning student athlete compensation, was brought by former West Virginia running back Shawne Alston in 2014 when he and his attorneys argued that NCAA rules that place any limit on compensation from universities to athletes violated antitrust law.
The NCAA has argued that additional compensation beyond scholarships blur the line between college and professional sports. The association also said its rules are necessary to maintain the tradition of amateurism in college sports.
This latest challenge now allows schools to give money to athletes for expenditures like computers, study abroad scholarships, paid internships, musical instruments and other products and services related to academic pursuits. Bans against direct cash payments remain in effect.