March 31 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday stepped into the controversial issue of paying college athletes, hearing an appeal from the NCAA after a lower court ruled the governing body should not be allowed to continue its long practice of treating student-athletes as unpaid amateurs.
The high court agreed to hear the case after Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the NCAA could not bar payments or salaries to players -- a ruling that would threaten its longtime business model that generates billions among hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide.
The NCAA allows student-athletes to receive cost-of-attendance stipends, but nothing close to approaching the level of earned athletic pay.
The NCAA argues that paying players directly would alienate fans to the point that collegiate athletics would ultimately come to be viewed as a minor league-type feeder for professional sports leagues like the NBA and NFL.
"The decision below deprives the NCAA of the leeway that sports-governing bodies and joint ventures ordinarily have under antitrust law, leeway of this court and others have recognized the NCAA needs to administer intercollegiate athletics," the NCAA argues in its brief to the Supreme Court.
Attorneys for student-athletes say the NCAA generates untold millions off the backs of unpaid students while denying them any type of incentive-based fiscal bonuses, like the kind coaches receive.
"Despite the massive revenues generated by these sports and the ever-growing demands on student-athletes, the NCAA's members continue to restrict the type and amount of compensation and benefits -- including education-related benefits -- that schools may offer in competing for recruits," the student-athletes wrote in their Supreme Court brief.
During 90 minutes of arguments Wednesday, by phone, justices appeared skeptical of the NCAA's claims.
"How do we know that we're just not destroying the game as it exists?" she added, according to a report by Bloomberg.
"It just strikes me as odd that [meanwhile] the coaches salaries have ballooned," Justice Clearance Thomas added.
Chief Justice John Roberts was the only member of the court who sounded somewhat supportive of the NCAA wondering that if enough collegiate policies were forced to change, the "whole thing [may come] crashing down."