(CN) – A federal judge ruled against the NCAA Friday evening in an antitrust lawsuit, allowing student-athletes to receive more education-related compensation from universities but not going as far as allowing athletes to receive salaries.
In a 104-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken said student-athletes may receive more compensation in the form of scholarships and possibly limited cash-equivalent awards for outstanding academics or reaching graduation, such as computers or other items that can be used for school.
The ruling falls short of what the plaintiffs, made up of Division I men’s and women’s basketball players and Bowl Subdivision football players, were seeking. The plaintiffs sought a removal of all compensation caps in college sports, allowing universities to compete for student athletes in a free-market system that would possibly include salaries and other forms of compensation.
"It's still significant that a federal judge ruled the NCAA violated antitrust law, but the remedy is relatively narrow and this is certainly not the sea change that the plaintiffs were looking for in college sports," Gabe Feldman, director of the Tulane University sports law program, told the Associated Press.
The original claim against the organization was brought by former West Virginia football player Shawne Alston, which was later merged with other lawsuits.
The NCAA has traditionally barred universities from offering players salaries or other forms of compensation outside of tuition, books and room and board.
"We have proven to the court that the NCAA's weak justifications for this unfair system are based on a self-serving mythology that does not match the facts," said Steve Berman, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs.
In its case arguments, the organization said removal of compensation caps would dramatically alter college sports, leading to a pay-for-play system where only the wealthiest universities could field the top student athletes.
In Wilken’s ruling, the NCAA is still allowed to prohibit cash compensation unrelated to education expenses. She said the organization can limit “academic or graduation awards” but the limit can’t be “less than the maximum amount of compensation that an individual could receive in an academic school year in participation, championship, or other special achievement awards.”
Wilken said the 11 conferences that play within the NCAA will be allowed to offer education-related compensation as they see fit, though the NCAA will still be able to define and regulate them.
“Each conference will continue to be able to limit any compensation or benefits, including the education-related benefits that the NCAA will not be permitted to cap, as long as it does so independently from other conferences,” Wilken wrote. “Schools will remain free to set limits on their own offers to student-athletes.”
Additionally, since Wilken ruled for the plaintiffs, they can seek attorneys fees, which could reach into the millions.
The plaintiffs are expected to appeal the case to the Ninth Circuit.
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