Winston & Strawn Trial Team Secures U.S. Supreme Court Victory for College Athletes in NCAA Scholarship Antitrust Class-Action Lawsuit

June 23, 2021 6:11 PM EDT

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WASHINGTON, June 23, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- On Monday, June 21, 2021, renowned sports lawyer Jeffrey Kessler and a litigation team from Winston & Strawn won a historic victory for college athletes when the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that NCAA restrictions on education related athlete benefits are a violation of U.S. antitrust laws. In deciding NCAA v. Alston, the Court rejected the NCAA's plea for "immunity from the normal operation of the antitrust laws" and upheld a lower court's ruling in favor of nationwide classes of college football and basketball players challenging NCAA-imposed caps on the education benefits that could be provided to class members.  

In a concurring opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh framed the decision as "an important and overdue course correction" and that "The NCAA is not above the law." In challenging the NCAA's argument that its restrictions could be justified based on the "amateur" status of its athletes, Kavanaugh stated, "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. And under ordinary principles of antitrust law, it is not evident why college sports should be any different."

"This historic 9-0 decision is about the athletes, especially those who will never join the pros. It is a chance to make a meaningful difference in their lives and their communities," said Co-Lead Counsel Jeffrey Kessler, Winston & Strawn Co-Executive Chairman & Co-Chair of the firm's Antitrust/Competition & Sports Law Practices. "Hopefully, it will also swing the doors open to further change, so that we can finally see a fair and competitive compensation system in which these incredible players get to benefit from the economic fruits of their labors and pursue their educational objectives.  Only then will the NCAA truthfully be able to say it is devoted to the welfare of the student athletes." 

The argument that colleges should be able to agree on restrictions in the name of "amateurism" -- a frequent claim of the 115-year-old NCAA -- has faced increasing scrutiny in recent years. The Supreme Court's Alston ruling follows the Ninth Circuit's decision in O'Bannon v. NCAA in 2015, which held that the NCAA's then existing amateurism rules limiting compensation for the names, images and likenesses of college athletes were anti-competitive restraints that must be reasonably justified under federal antitrust law. 

Colleges and universities may now immediately provide scores of new education-related benefits to athletes, which includes unlimited graduate school, vocational and study abroad scholarships, paid internships, computers and equipment, tutoring, and up to $5,900 cash each year for academic achievement awards. The door is also open for future litigation to ensure that college athletes will be able to profit off their name and likeness, as well as eventually achieve a competitive share of the multibillion-dollar annual revenues generated by the NCAA and its members from the efforts of the college athletes. 

Kessler notes that while the Alston decision marks significant progress, it is just one major step in the fight for fairness and ending the exploitation of student-athletes, many of whom are people of color from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Representing the athletes from Winston & Strawn are Jeffrey Kessler, Linda Coberly, David Feher, David Greenspan, Jeanifer Parsigian, the late Derek Sarafa, Adam Dale, Scott Sherman, Aaron Steeg, and Corinne Kyritsopoulos. The co-lead counsel for the classes are Steve Berman of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP and Bruce Simon of Pearson, Simon & Warshaw, LLP.

Winston & Strawn LLP is an international law firm with 15 offices located throughout North America, Asia, and Europe. More information about the firm is available at

Contact: Michael Goodwin(646)

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SOURCE Winston & Strawn LLP

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