A judge’s recent ruling that the National Collegiate Athletics Association violated antitrust laws by restricting payments to student-athletes is the latest decision chipping away at the shield of amateurism that the NCAA has placed around its collegiate athletics system, legal observers say.

Stephen J. Kastenberg, a Ballard Spahr partner in the firm’s Antitrust Group, said early court decisions concerning the NCAA and potential antitrust exposure tended to favor amateurism and allow for rules that otherwise would have faced antitrust scrutiny. But over the years, courts have become more inclined to apply antitrust law to the NCAA model.

“This is another step in that direction,” Mr. Kastenberg said.

As part of the ruling, Judge Claudia Wilken suggested that the NCAA establish a trust, and that its member schools pay at least $5,000 per year into that trust for each football and basketball player as long as they remain in school. Mr. Kastenberg said the cap illustrated the difficult job the court had in trying to repair the antitrust harm while not entirely doing away with the NCAA’s system of amateurism.

Although Judge Wilken had significant concerns about the current rules, she clearly was committed to “not doing anything that may further undermine the amateur nature of collegiate sports,” Mr. Kastenberg said.

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