A cracked old cornerstone has been yanked out from under the NCAA by the Supreme Court, and it’s going to lead to the total collapse of that crude shanty house, just you watch. Soon there will be nothing left under Mark Emmert’s feet but a few rotten boards. The NCAA should put a sign out: “This property is condemned.”

This was an inevitable moment, and yet Emmert and his lieutenants spent years and billions in legal fees trying to forestall it, fighting athletes through the courts instead of returning what was essentially their stolen property. “The NCAA is not above the law,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in a concurrence to the unanimous 9-0 decision in NCAA v. Alston. Oh, but it thought it was. Throughout its modern legal history, the NCAA’s stewards had relied on the arrogant supposition that the courts owed them acquiescence because of the nature of what they do: They were the gatekeepers of amateurism and of scholarly purity, even as they filched and conned and collected backroom rakeoffs.

In sentence after sentence, phrase after phrase, the highest court left the NCAA unhoused and naked, with nothing left but its pretensions.

“The NCAA couches its arguments for not paying student athletes in innocuous labels,” Kavanaugh wrote. “But the labels cannot disguise the reality: The NCAA’s business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America.” Boom. Pants around ankles.

That sentence is sure to lead to a blitz of litigation. So is this one, from Justice Neil Gorsuch in the majority opinion: “Put simply, this suit involves admitted horizontal price fixing in a market where the defendants exercise market control,” he wrote.

“Flatly illegal” and “price fixing” – those are big words for what the NCAA thought was a narrow little case. Alston was, on its face, simply about whether the NCAA could enforce rules limiting certain education-related benefits such as graduate scholarships. But the Supreme Court went broad – and in doing so it kicked the legs out of every legal argument the NCAA has been using to defend its illegal behavior in other cases, especially those brought by athletes to reclaim their name, image and likeness rights, which are still in the lower courts.

The NCAA thought it had a magic cloak, but now it’s gone. It had relied heavily on wording in a 1984 ruling called NCAA v. Board of Regents, which stated the identification of college football with an academic tradition is what differentiated it from minor league baseball. The NCAA took that to mean its “amateurism” rules that restrict athletes from making money had been “blessed” by the courts.

Not anymore. Here is Kavanaugh retracting that blessing. “Stray comments” from Regents, he wrote dismissively as if the NCAA were an alley cat, did not amount to a defense. He summed up the circular logic the NCAA has been foisting off on courts for years: “The NCAA says that colleges may decline to pay student athletes because the defining feature of college sports, according to the NCAA, is that the student athletes are not paid.”

Kavanaugh put that in its properly ludicrous context. “Hospitals cannot agree to cap nurses’ income in order to create a ‘purer’ form of helping the sick,” he wrote. “… Movie studios cannot collude to slash benefits to camera crews to kindle a ‘spirit of amateurism’ in Hollywood.”

For too long, the NCAA “has long shielded its compensation rules from ordinary antitrust scrutiny” with that sort of nonsense, Kavanaugh wrote.

Gorsuch, too, attacked the NCAA’s reasoning as a request for privileged status. It demanded “a sort of judicially ordained immunity from the terms of (antitrust law) for its restraints of trade – that we should overlook its restrictions because they happen to fall at the intersection of higher education, sports, and money – we cannot agree,” he wrote.

The magic cloak has been torn away. In its place are the bare knees of Emmert and his lead counsels, and a lot of questions. How will allowing athletes to benefit from their names, images and likenesses affect overall revenue for athletic departments? What will the effect be for athletes in smaller sports? Will there have to be salary caps to preserve competitive balance? Is there really any such thing anymore as “illegal recruiting” since the NCAA’s own rules have been found to be outside of the law?

Those questions will have to be answered by natural market forces, or by state and federal legislation. What’s sure is that they will no longer be answered by a profit-hoarding bureaucracy that used capricious rule-booking and moralizing on “purity” of amateurs as cover for its predatory business practices on the backs of students.

“We’re thrilled,” Steve Berman, one of the winning attorneys, wrote via email. “The NCAA can no longer argue that it’s entitled to deference other businesses don’t have.”

The NCAA has become just another bad corporate actor. The inordinate power it had is gone, and you can hear the splintering. What will replace it? Something better. The court rightly recognized that college athletes still have to be enrolled and in good academic standing. It was a silly fallacy, always, that curbing the NCAA’s runaway power would somehow make the system more impure than it already is. In fact, it will make it more honest, more direct. Straighter.

How to rebuild? Here’s the first brick: A person’s natural-born name and attendant economic rights inherently belong to them and not to the NCAA. Start with that cornerstone. Everything else that comes after will be solid and make a lot more sense from now on.

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