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Federal Judge Rules NCAA Cannot Limit Compensation, Benefits 'Related to Education'

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken issued her ruling late Friday night, outlining which benefits can and cannot be restricted.

A federal judge ruled Friday night that the NCAA cannot limit compensation or benefits for student athletes that are "related to education." 

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken's ruling stated that the NCAA is "permanently restrained and enjoyed from agreeing to fix or limit compensation or benefits related to education” from conferences or schools for any athletes playing Division I men’s or women’s basketball or Bowl Subdivision football. Wilken is the same judge who ruled in the Ed O'Bannon antitrust lawsuit in 2016, which found that the NCAA's limits on what college football and men's basketball players can receive for playing their respective sports "unreasonably restrain trade."

Wilken's ruling Friday night said the athletes named may receive scholarships to complete undergraduate or graduate degrees at any school, among other benefits, in exchange for their athletic services but her ruling also prevents athletes from receiving unlimited benefits.

Essentially, the NCAA may "limit compensation and benefits unrelated to education," but the ruling still "generally prohibit[s] the NCAA from limited education-related benefits." The association may also limit "academic or graduation awards of incentives, provided in cash or cash-equivalent."

The NCAA issued a statement in response to the ruling late Friday night, stating that while the decision acknowledged that student athletes should not be paid in sums unrelated to education, they also believed it was "inconsistent" with Wilken's decision in the O'Bannon lawsuit. 

"The court’s decision recognizes that college sports should be played by student-athletes, not by paid professionals. The decision acknowledges that the popularity of college sports stems in part from the fact that these athletes are indeed students, who must not be paid unlimited cash sums unrelated to education," the NCAA's chief legal officer, Donald Remy, said. "NCAA rules actively provide a pathway for tens of thousands of student-athletes each year to receive a college education debt-free.

The statement continued: "Although the court rejected the plaintiffs’ desire for a free market system, we will explore our next steps as appropriate. We believe the ruling is inconsistent with the decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in O’Bannon. That decision held that the rules governing college athletics would be better developed outside the courtroom, including rules around the education-related support that schools provide." 

Wilken also said in her decision that the association should adopt a definition of compensation and benefits that are "related to education," to ensure schools and conferences can comply with the injunction.