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A Grip on Sports: The Supreme Court finally forces the NCAA to re-examine its maddening rule book

FILE - In this March 20, 2021, file photo the March Madness logo is shown on the court during the first half of a men's college basketball game in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. A Supreme Court case being argued this week amid March Madness could erode the difference between elite college athletes and professional sports stars.  (Paul Sancya)
FILE - In this March 20, 2021, file photo the March Madness logo is shown on the court during the first half of a men's college basketball game in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. A Supreme Court case being argued this week amid March Madness could erode the difference between elite college athletes and professional sports stars. (Paul Sancya)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Welcome to the revolution in college athletics. It is on its way. Monday’s Supreme Court ruling, and an even-more damning concurring opinion, is not just the impetuous for a sea change, it’s the birth of a tsunami that should wash the current model off the map.


• Like most decisions made by our nation’s highest court, Monday’s won’t cause major change tomorrow. It’s what it portends, and the doors it opened, that are it’s greatest impact. The bottom line is simple: The Court decided the NCAA’s current model is unconstitutional on its face and has to change. In fact, it would have forced greater change if the plaintiff’s attorneys had pushed for it. And, with a unanimous Court on board, there is no chance a change in its makeup is going to lead to a different outcome down the road when somebody finally does push.

Mark the date. June 21, 2021. It’s when the NCAA’s long hold on the financial strings of college athletes slipped out of its fingers.

So what does it mean and where are we headed? About the only thing we know for sure is the NCAA’s limits on educational help will have to be changed if not abolished. After that, where this ruling sends us, like most school’s down-the-road football schedules, is still to be determined.

But the door has been opened for paying players.

“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,” Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote in his concurring opinion. “And under ordinary principles of antitrust law, it is not evident why college sports should be any different. The NCAA is not above the law.”

That last sentence is the killer. “The NCAA is not above the law.” Huh. For years the organization has made its stand on player pay (and their right to unionize) on what it thought was the solid ground anti-trust laws didn’t apply to it. And for years many government entities – we’re looking at you National Labor Relations Board – and courts have agreed. The NCAA’s status as an organization made up of member schools, charged with overseeing those schools’ athletic competition, isn’t enough to shield it from antitrust laws all other businesses have to abide by. And Kavanaugh made that abundantly clear.

The next step is simple. An athlete somewhere, maybe even at Gonzaga or Eastern or Washington State, has to step forward to ask for compensation for their time. And be told no, due to the NCAA’s rules. Then they have to take the NCAA to federal court. It may take a while, like that tree you planted in the backyard, but sooner or later it will reach the Supreme Court – if the NCAA loses it is certain to appeal – and the shade it will cast on the organization will be complete.

After all, Kavanaugh will be there to write the majority opinion. If his opinion hasn’t changed, and it won’t, the model the NCAA has used for decades will melt away.

• To be clear, the process has already begun. In a little more than a week, the ability for athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness will become law in six states. Other states are moving forward with similar legislation. Heck, NCAA president Mark Emmert has told the organization it needs to come up with ways to change NIL limits by next month or he will do it himself.

But that’s a 3-foot swell compared to the tidal wave that is coming. And what do tidal waves cause? A complete change in the landscape they touch. That is the future. A future that is quite a bit closer today than it was yesterday.


WSU: Life goes on, especially on the recruiting trail. The Cougars received a commitment yesterday for a Gig Harbor linebacker after his official visit. Theo Lawson has more in this story. … We linked at the top of this column Greg Mason’s story on how the ruling is being received at local colleges and universities. We link it again here. … The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach takes a look at the Cougars’ upcoming season in the latest edition of the publication. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and college sports, the conference’s athletic directors have met and talked with incoming commissioner George Kliavkoff. The main subject, according to Jon Wilner? Football. Specifically, scheduling. Changes are coming in that area as well. … The stands will be full in Boulder in the fall. At least they can be. … Utah has a couple of anchors on its defensive line. … Arizona State won’t be going to the mountains for preseason practice again this year. … In basketball news, Oregon will have an alumni team in The Basketball Tournament. … Colorado released its nonconference schedule. … An Arizona player was cut at the U19 tryouts. … At the college World Series, Stanford stayed alive but at the expense of Arizona.

Gonzaga: Three local players were invited to the U.S. U19 basketball team’s tryouts, GU’s Chet Holmgren and Hunter Sallis as well as WSU’s Dishon Jackson. Only the Zags’ incoming freshman, Holmgren, made it through the first cut. Jim Meehan has all the information on this story. … Jim also spent some time yesterday talking with Larry Weir for the latest Press Box podcast. … Two former Gonzaga players are among the top dozen players in this Athletic NBA draft preview.

Preps: A big family of players always helps a small school’s basketball team. Such is the case in Northport, where girls’ basketball coach Erik Stark had four of his daughters on this year’s squad. Dan Thompson has more in this story. … A former Lewis and Clark High basketball coach is headed to the region’s junior college hall of fame. That and more are contained in this package of local briefs.

USL: The soccer league is moving forward with trying to establish a team in Spokane. The organization has named former city council candidate Cindy Wendle to lead the effort. Jim Allen has more in this story.

Mariners: The M’s are probably playing been more successful than anyone could have expected. How are they doing it? … Maybe they could make a trade and bolster the lineup. … The players wonder why baseball is making a change concerning sticky substances now.

Storm: Three-fifths of Seattle’s starting lineup, including Sue Bird, has been named to the U.S. Olympic team.

Kraken: The expansion team may not have picked a coach but it has a television analyst under contract. At least it has its priorities straight.


• For all our readers in the Southwest, we feel your heat-related pain. And soon we will feel your hot air. There are predictions of record-breaking high temps in the region over the weekend and beyond. Oh boy. There go my plans to build an outdoor skating rink. Until later …

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