In a unanimous ruling yesterday, the Supreme Court said that the N.C.A.A., which governs college sports, could not prohibit student-athletes from receiving modest, education-related payments.
The decision doesn’t mean that college football players can suddenly receive big salaries. But it is a milestone for those trying to change the model of college sports in the U.S., and it could open the door for broader challenges.
Alan Blinder, who covers college sports for The Times, helps us explain what yesterday’s ruling means, and what’s next for the N.C.A.A.
The N.C.A.A. says its athletes are amateurs. That may have been true decades ago, when competition was mostly limited to other schools in the area and less intense training schedules allowed students to balance their athletics with their schoolwork.
But it’s an increasingly hard argument to make, particularly for high-profile sports like football and basketball. Conferences sign lucrative TV deals; coaches earn millions of dollars; teams crisscross the country for games and can spend 50 hours a week training.
“The N.C.A.A., in a nonpandemic year, has more than a billion dollars flow through it. Even more money moves through the conferences and schools because it’s not just TV; it’s apparel and ticket sales and everything else,” Alan told me. “What you’ve seen over the years, as more and more money sloshes around, is that amateurism seemed less visible to a lot of casual fans.”
Those who oppose paying N.C.A.A. athletes say that the current compensation model, in which colleges cover the cost of attendance — including tuition, room and board, and some living expenses — is appropriate. They also say it preserves a line, however faint, between college sports and professional sports.
But others, including former athletes, say the model uses players’ skill and labor to generate huge revenues, and offers generous compensation to everyone except those playing the game.
What the court ruling means
Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision doesn’t immediately change much. The justices said that schools could offer additional education-related perks — things like scholarships for graduate school, internships or computer equipment.
“The question before the court was a fairly narrow one, and the court responded with a narrow ruling,” Alan said. “But what they did was trim the N.C.A.A.’s sails. They said that their power was not absolute and unchallenged.”
That was most apparent in a concurring opinion by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who signaled that the court might be interested in going further in a future N.C.A.A. case. “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.
More change around the corner
“To a certain extent, the Supreme Court ruling is a bit of a sideshow,” Alan told me. “The real change that’s going to affect most athletes playing now is coming a week from Thursday.”
That’s when at least six states — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas — will enact laws allowing college athletes to profit from their names, images and likenesses. A player could, for example, sign an endorsement deal, sell autographs or host a training camp.
Some universities worry that the patchwork rules will create unfair advantages in recruiting high school players, and many have pushed for nationwide standards. The N.C.A.A. agreed to modernize its endorsement rules in 2019, but has not yet produced its own plan. The group’s president asked Congress to help by creating federal regulations, but that effort has also stalled.
Now, as Alan recently wrote, “the college sports industry is bracing for an era they expect will be marked by chaos and uncertainty.”
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‘The most R-rated G you will ever see’
In 1996, Disney released an animated film with a musical number about lust, sin and hellfire. The movie’s plot involves the threat of genocide against the Roma. Yet somehow, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” earned a G rating from a review board of parents.
“That’s the most R-rated G you will ever see in your life,” Tab Murphy, one of the film’s screenwriters, told The Times. For the movie’s 25th anniversary, Sarah Bahr unpacked how Disney made such a dark children’s film.
The movie changed some things from its source material, a dreary 19th-century Victor Hugo novel. It added talking gargoyles, and the two main characters didn’t die at the end. Because Disney did not want to take on the church, Hugo’s troubled archdeacon, Claude Frollo, became an evil magistrate.
Still, Disney executives took a relatively hands-off approach. “They were like, ‘You write the story you want to tell, and let us worry about our brand,’” Murphy said. (The film’s marketing did tell a different story. Its tagline was “Join the party!”)
Some of the movie’s themes have stood the test of time. Frollo feels like a “very contemporary” villain in the #MeToo era, the film’s co-director noted. “Maybe, in retrospect, ‘Hunchback’ was a bridge too far,” Alan Menken, who composed the film’s score, said. “But God, am I glad they took that bridge too far.” — Sanam Yar, a Morning writer
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