In October 2019, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced it would be making a major change to its rules: student-athletes would soon be permitted to receive compensation for the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL). The announcement came in response to an increasing volume of state legislation allowing for student-athlete NIL compensation. On July 1, 2021, student-athletes finally had the opportunity to receive NIL benefits as the NCAA’s interim NIL policy went into effect. This change represents a nail in the coffin for traditional notions of amateurism.

For decades, the NCAA defended its rules from antitrust challenges with the procompetitive justification of preserving amateurism. As permissible compensation for student-athletes has expanded, the NCAA has continuously adjusted its definition of amateurism to fit its needs. Now, with the availability of NIL compensation, it has become clear that no coherent concept of amateurism exists in college sports. Yet, the death of amateurism does not have to lead to the death of the NCAA. This Note concludes that in future antitrust challenges, the NCAA will need to point to a procompetitive justification other than amateurism to defend its remaining rules. An antitrust defense based on the unique culture of college sports, rather than amateurism, will align with the realities of student-athlete compensation without sacrificing the NCAA’s ability to enforce eligibility rules.

Part I of this Note provides background for the relevant antitrust law and its historical application to the NCAA. Part II discusses how the concept of amateurism in collegiate athletics is unraveling and argues that amateurism will no longer be an effective defense in antitrust challenges to NCAA rules. Part III proposes a solution to the problems addressed in Part II that will allow the NCAA to maintain its distinct product of collegiate athletics without depending on the dying concept of amateurism.