Recent Developments in Sports-Related Disputes 2022


Walter “Fritz” Metzinger

Stone, Pigman, Walther, Wittmann, L.L.C.
909 Poydras Street, Suite 3150
New Orleans, LA 70112
(504) 593-0922
[email protected]


In many ways, 2021 marked a return to a semblance of normalcy in the sporting world. The proliferation of vaccines enabled crowds to return to sporting events, and tent-pole events postponed from 2020 (most notably the Summer Olympics) were able to proceed. In terms of sports-related commercial litigation and disputes, however, the year was anything but “normal.” From a landmark Supreme Court decision regarding amateurism to a stunning (and quickly foiled) European soccer conspiracy to lingering litigation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant shutdowns, the year featured a bevy of sports-related suits and incidents that could shape the business of sports for years and decades to come. Below is a brief summary of a few of the cases that occurred or were resolved in 2021.

Part I – NCAA

§ 1.1. NCAA v. Alston, 141 S. Ct. 2141 (June 21, 2021)

Directly addressing the antitrust legality of the NCAA’s student-athlete compensation limits for the first time, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the lower courts’ holding that the NCAA’s restrictions on “education-related” compensation to Division I athletes were unlawful.[1]

The plaintiffs in Alston were current and former student-athletes in men’s Division I FBS football and men’s and women’s Division I basketball players. Their initial suit challenged, on antitrust grounds, the NCAA rules capping the amount of “grant-in-aid” scholarship a Division I college or university can offer to a scholarship athlete at roughly the “cost of attendance” of the institution. The players argued that, by conspiring to arbitrarily “fix” the compensation student-athletes could otherwise earn in a free market for their services, NCAA member schools violate Section 1 of the Sherman Act under a “Rule of Reason” analysis.[2] In response, the NCAA argued that its interest in preserving “amateurism” justified its grant-in-aid rules and that the Supreme Court recognized that its compensation rules were presumptively legal in its 1984 decision in NCAA v. Board of Regents.[3]

Applying the full “Rule of Reason” analysis, the district court found that the NCAA’s restrictions on grant-in-aid were anticompetitive and not justified by the NCAA’s ever-shifting concept of “amateurism.”[4] However, the court did find that the NCAA had a procompetitive interest in restricting payments to athletes that were “unrelated to education,” so as to distinguish student-athletes from their professional counterparts.[5] The district court thus enjoined the NCAA from enforcing rules that limited athletes’ “educational” compensation, such as laptops and lab equipment for studies, payments for tutoring, and post-eligibility internships.[6] In addition, the court increased the limit of cash award for athletic achievement to $5,980, the maximum a high-achieving football player could earn in additional cash benefits.[7] The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court in full, prompting the NCAA to petition for certiorari.[8] The plaintiffs opted against appealing the portion of the judgment preserving the NCAA’s ability to limit compensation “unrelated to education.”[9]

Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Gorsuch first addressed whether the NCAA’s rules were subject to a full Rule of Reason antitrust analysis or were afforded a deferential “quick look” standard. Justice Gorsuch explained that while a “quick look” will often be enough to approve the restraints “necessary to produce a game”—such as rules about the length of a game, the frequency of games, and the number of players on …

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