Dec. 16 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to hear an antitrust case in collegiate athletics that could ultimately lead to schools paying student-athletes in a radical change of the traditional business model.
The court said it will hear an appeal from the NCAA stemming from a decision in May that ruled the collegiate sports governing body violates antitrust laws by limiting compensation for student-athletes.
The NCAA has argued the lower court ruling would further blur "the traditional line between college and professional athletes" and that its rules already allow for competitive equity and make clear the distinctions between amateur and professional athletes.
The NCAA is joined by 11 top conferences in the suit against claims by a group of current and former student-athletes who say they're barred from earning money from their "name, image and likeness."
"We are pleased the U.S. Supreme Court will review the NCAA's right to provide student-athletes with the educational benefits they need to succeed in school and beyond," NCAA Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy said in a statement.
The justices on Wednesday also agreed to hear a related appeal on the issue from the NCAA's five "power" leagues -- the Big Ten, Big 12, Atlantic Coast Conference, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference.
The issue of compensation for collegiate athletes has long been contentious and controversial.
The NCAA agreed last year to begin changing its rules to allow athletes to benefit financially from their name and likeness, but ongoing legal challenges have continued to move through the courts seeking a legal ruling on the matter. The NCAA is seeking to defend its rights to limit player compensation.
The NCAA's board of governors recommended at the time that the rule changes be made across all three divisions of competition by the start of 2021.
"I think it would be hard to overstate the potential significance of it for a number of reasons, primarily because it is so rare for the Supreme Court to hear any cases involving the sports industry, much less college sports," Gabe Feldman, Tulane University's associate provost for NCAA compliance and director of the Tulane Sports Law Program, said.