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The NCAA Supreme Court Case Could Forever Change College Sports

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

As March Madness comes to a close, the organization behind it is under fire. The National Collegiate Athletic Association proclaims itself a protector of amateurism in sports. But the NCAA also brings in more than a billion dollars a year, and that has unpaid players demanding a different business model. Today, the Supreme Court heard arguments on an antitrust case involving the NCAA. And even if the justices don't force collegiate sports to change their business model, Congress and state legislatures across the country are starting to wade in. Nicole Auerbach is a college sports reporter with The Athletic.

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

NICOLE AUERBACH: Yeah, thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Let's start with today's Supreme Court hearing, which we're hearing about in more detail in another part of the show. Just give us a sense of what is at stake when the court rules likely later this summer.

AUERBACH: Well, this is actually tied to expenses related to educational benefits. So it's a little bit not as sexy as some people would like as a topic, but it is basically just looking at issues like internships and opportunities that other students have and whether or not college athletes can receive compensation for them. So it's not paying to play. It's not salaries. It's not making them employees. But it is tied to those topics and it's tied to the elements of amateurism and just overall fairness for workers.

SHAPIRO: Which, as we mentioned, is a huge issue, totally apart from the Supreme Court. And so let's talk about some of those other places this is boiling over. Like, tomorrow, a group of players is set to meet with Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey. Possibly there will be some representatives from the Biden administration at that meeting. What could happen at the federal level?

AUERBACH: Well, this is actually happening kind of on a parallel track to what you're mentioning, which is basically reform around names, images and likenesses for athletes. So when you think of that, you think of like a sponsored Instagram post or an endorsement deal with a local business. That is happening. There are states that have already passed laws, some to take effect as soon as this summer. You have the push for federal legislation in this space, which is - Cory Booker is one of the senators that has been creating bills - there's six or seven of them floating around - of reform in this space that will supersede NCAA rules. So it's been fascinating to see so much bipartisan support and the willingness of different branches of the government to get involved here where for so many years they really did let the NCAA just do its own thing and create its own rules.

SHAPIRO: Besides the Supreme Court and Congress, there's been action in state legislatures. Tell us what's happening there and whether this is likely the beginning of a wave and more states are going to follow.

AUERBACH: Well, it's been very popular, so more states are following, and everyone's trying to speed up their start dates, actually, because right now we're a couple of months away from some of these state laws taking effect, like Florida. And at this point, it feels like you're going to have Florida athletes allowed to do things that athletes in other states are not going to be. And we don't really know what that's going to play out and what that means for NCAA eligibility, how unpopular that would be if the NCAA tried to not let those athletes participate. And that's part of the reason that there's this urgency for a federal, national solution here that isn't there yet.

SHAPIRO: You know, as you point out, the NCAA for years was kind of able to write its own rules, call its own shots. And however these individual pressure points turn out, it seems fair to say things are changing and the NCAA is no longer entirely in control. So what's the big picture right now? Where do you see this going?

AUERBACH: So it is going to be a different era of college sports. I personally don't think it will be all that different. I think that it just will feel more fair and there will be more of a shift. And you don't just have coaches making $9 million a year and the players not making anything beyond a scholarship. But I don't think that ultimately when you're watching a game it's going to feel all that different. But it will be a specifically different era in the history of college athletics in this country.

SHAPIRO: That's Nicole Auerbach, who reports on college sports for The Athletic.

Thanks a lot.

AUERBACH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.