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NCAA lauds elements of O’Bannon appeal ruling

Federal appellate court rules full cost of attendance is appropriate

Providing compensation to student-athletes beyond the full cost of attending college is not required under federal antitrust law, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled on Wednesday. The three-member panel’s decision indicated that awarding scholarships to college athletes that cover the full cost of attendance in accordance with the NCAA’s rules governing amateur status is appropriate.   

“I was particularly pleased that the court recognized the fundamental difference between providing support for student-athletes that is education related and – to use [the court’s] words – ‘cash sums that were untethered to educational expenses,’” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “The principal of amateurism was something that they recognized at the core of this decision.”

The court’s ruling echoes a decision NCAA member schools made earlier this year: As of Aug. 1, NCAA institutions were allowed to begin providing student-athletes scholarships that covered the full cost of attending school. “These are not employees – these are students,” said Big 12 Conference Commissioner Bob Bowlsby. “This [ruling] has affirmed the amateur status of collegiate athletes.”  

The panel also rejected an earlier district court ruling that would have allowed student-athletes to be paid up to $5,000 in annual deferred cash compensation. The circuit court’s decision is the latest development in an ongoing case originally brought by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon regarding the use of student-athlete likenesses in broadcasts and video games.

“We are pleased that the 9th Circuit determined that the district court’s ruling that would allow NCAA member institutions to provide compensation above the full cost of attendance was struck down,” said Donald Remy, NCAA chief legal officer.

NCAA officials were in the midst of reviewing the 73-page decision on Wednesday and said they are still considering next steps. Remy noted that while the NCAA was content with some aspects of the ruling, it may want to examine others further – namely that any rules related to compensation be mandated by a court. “We don’t believe it necessary to have an injunction to provide full cost of attendance to student-athletes,” Remy said.

Either the NCAA or the plaintiffs could ask the full 9th Circuit – not merely a three-judge panel – to review the decision or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Either party has 14 days to appeal to the 9th Circuit and 90 days to appeal to the Supreme Court, though extensions can be granted. Conversely, either party could choose to take no action.    

“It’s too soon for us to articulate exactly what we plan to do,” Remy said. “We’ll make those judgments in short order.”