Judge Wilken has finally ruled in the Alston case. In the big picture, the decision is a win for the NCAA because it affirmed the collegiate model, which integrates academics and athletics and what differentiates college sports from the professional leagues.
But, by removing all limits that are tethered to education benefits, Judge Wilken has thrown a monkey wrench into college sports.
First, educational benefits without limits are currency and can be used abusively in recruiting and retaining student-athletes. The devil will be in the details in defining what are permissible educational benefits.
Second, because the opinion has a lot of gray areas that are open to interpretation, I can only imagine that more litigation will result from this decision. That is unfortunate because the hundreds of millions of dollars on legal fees could be better spent of student-athlete welfare.
Third, conferences will have the choice in determining the restrictions on scholarship values. This means that some conferences may permit their schools to offer greater scholarship aid than schools with fewer financial resources. Like all other self-regulating bodies, whether it be in the finance, medicine, or engineering industries, organizations, like the NCAA, depend upon uniformity and consistent standards in order to enforce their rules. Can you imagine if FINRA, the securities industry regulator, allowed Goldman Sachs to do more than Morgan Stanley? Or if two doctors were treated differently? With schools having different scholarship limitations, the NCAA will face serious enforcement problems, with respect to promoting and policing consistency upon member schools.
Finally, schools spending more money than others may accentuate the arms race in college sports. This is problematic given that only approximately 20 Division I schools a year make more money than they spend, and, costs continue to rise.
So while Wilken’s decision was ultimately a win for the NCAA, there are still many questions to be answered and this will take time to sort out particularly if the decision is appealed.