SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – A federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled Monday that the National Collegiate Athletic Association can’t limit the compensation colleges can give to top basketball and football players for education-related costs and benefits.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision in which U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken said last year that NCAA restrictions on education-related benefits violated federal antitrust law by reducing competition in college sports.

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The NCAA currently allows colleges to give athletes scholarships for the full cost of attending college, including tuition, board and incidental expenses. Monday’s decision allows additional aid for education-related items such as computers, science equipment, musical instruments, internships and graduate school scholarships at other schools.

The decision applies to men’s Division I Football Bowl Subdivision and men’s and women’s Division I basketball. It was made in several consolidated lawsuits filed in 2014 and 2015 by players led by former West Virginia University running back Shawne Alston.

The players also unsuccessfully sought to have the courts throw out all limits on compensation for student athletes. But the appeals court agreed with Wilken’s conclusion that allowing professional-level pay beyond education costs would diminish competition by reducing the popularity of college sports perceived by fans as amateur ventures.

Chief Circuit Judge Sidney Thomas wrote, “In our view, the district court struck the right balance in crafting a remedy that both prevents anticompetitive harm to student-athletes while serving the pro-competitive purpose of preserving the popularity of college sports.”

Steve Berman, a lawyer for Alston, stated, “We are incredibly pleased that the appeals court has sided with the lower federal court’s previous decision and with our plaintiffs, the student athletes who have worked so hard under the NCAA’s regulations to balance their needs with the intense demands of college sports.”

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Berman said the decision clears the way for individual Division I athletic conferences to set independent rules on which education-related compensation or benefits their member colleges may give student athletes.

NCAA Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy said in a statement, “We will continue to review the opinion and determine our next steps.”

The decision could be appealed to an expanded panel of the 9th Circuit or to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The lawsuits filed in 2014 and 2015 followed an earlier 2009 lawsuit in which former University of California at Los Angeles basketball player Ed O’Bannon challenged previous NCAA rules limiting scholarships to tuition, board and books.

While that case was pending, the NCAA changed its rules in 2014 to allow scholarships for the full cost of attending college, including incidental expenses such as laundry, supplies and transportation.

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