Office of the President

It’s no secret that the NCAA often makes legal news. We have faced legal challenges before and will likely face them in the future. Court decisions may not always come out exactly the way we would like. But they have consistently navigated big questions about the relationship between higher education and sports while holding one thing in common: the recognition that college sports are distinct from professional sports.

Most recently, the decision in Alston v. NCAA has reignited discussions around the professionalization of college sports. U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken’s ruling supported the collegiate model that previous courts also have recognized. Her decision emphasized the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1984 endorsement of college sports, which declared that to preserve the character and quality of college sports, “athletes must not be paid, must be required to attend class and the like.” These consistent decisions support the principle that players are students and any additional benefits they receive must be tied to their educational endeavors.

While I was pleased to see Judge Wilken support schools and conferences providing additional educational benefits to students, we disagree with her assessment of the NCAA’s rule-making authority. The Supreme Court and 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have set precedent by stating the NCAA should have “ample latitude” to apply its rules. NCAA schools collectively are best positioned to strengthen and revise rules for student-athletes, just as we have done and continue to do every day. The NCAA has appealed this decision to reaffirm these rule-making principles, which are instrumental to our mission and long-term ability to support students.

At times it may seem the Association’s actions are a reaction to court decisions, but our approach is quite the opposite. Our reform efforts and rule changes occur independently, with the unilateral goal of providing opportunities for student-athletes to succeed. Independent of major litigation, we passed legislation allowing for unlimited meals and placing more limits on how schools use student-athletes’ time. Our most recent reforms focus on guaranteed, multiyear athletics scholarships that also cover the full cost of attendance. These improvements develop naturally as our members propose ideas and as higher education adapts. While there may be legal challenges, we are driven purely by what our students need, not how we think courts will react. Maintaining this independence to make rules is fundamental to our success and the success of our students.

Courts recognize the merits of combining athletics and academics to create a holistic experience that benefits student-athletes. When decisions conflict with our mission, it is worth our legal investment. The financial support provided to schools and the higher education community through NCAA programming and investment is worth possible legal fights. Ninety championships, half a million students excelling in athletics and academics, $3.3 billion in scholarships every year and lifetime success thanks to a college degree are worth fighting for in court. We will continue to keep student-athletes at the core of our decision-making and enact changes to benefit them and our member schools, regardless of the court battles that may ensue.

Mark Emmert
NCAA President