NCAA Hit with Another Lawsuit Regarding Student-Athlete Compensation

By: Jordan Silber

Big-time college athletics is a multi-billion dollar business in which the National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”), it’s “power-house” conferences, member institutions, and head coaches are handsomely compensated for their efforts.  Ironically, the only individuals left out from earning a piece of the pie are the very athletes who put their bodies on the line to compete in their respective sport.  As the money in the pot continues to get larger through television and sponsorship contracts,[1] the athletes are receiving a proportionally smaller and smaller share of that revenue.[2]  The images of these athletes are used to promote their institutions, as well as used directly in merchandise licensed by the institutions, without giving those athletes proper compensation.[3]  The institutions argue that the education they are providing to the athletes is more than just compensation, however, due to changing societal conditions, this compensation is becoming more and more inadequate.[4]

The debate over whether student-athletes should earn greater compensation for their hard work, extreme time commitment and the huge sum of revenue that they bring in to the university has gained considerable attention in the past year alone.  For example, recently, the Northwestern University football team has filed a petition with the NLRB in an attempt to recognize these athletes as employees of the university and permit them to form a union, thus providing them with protection under the NLRA.[5]  Now less than three months later another lawsuit has been filed against the NCAA and five of its largest conferences alleging violation of antitrust laws due to the capping of athletes compensation at the value of a scholarship for attending the university.[6]

Jeffrey Kessler, the attorney for the athletes, claims that the open market should set the athletes value.[7] He claims that the NCAA amateurism rules are “being used as a tool to strip the players of their fair market value”[8] and is seeking an injunction against the NCAA’s rules, which limit athlete’s compensation, labeling it “price-fixing”.[9] Under the current system players are limited to compensation mainly in the form of tuition, books, and room and board.  The NCAA has continued to stand behind the current systems amateurism rules in its Constitution which state that the “basic purpose of this Association is to maintain intercollegiate athletics as an integral part of the educational program and the athlete as an integral part of the student body and, by so doing, retain a clear line of demarcation between intercollegiate athletics and professional sports.”[10] However, this “clear line” separating college from pro’s has become extreme blurry in recent decades.  There are many aspects of today’s big-time college athletics that run counter to the noble idea of amateurism.

The tremendous rise in popularity among college athletics, particularly mens football and basketball over the past few decades has created an incredible revenue-generating resource for many universities.  For example, universities profit off merchandise that the sell, which represent their players name, likeness, and jersey number.[11]  Universities aren’t the only ones cashing in.  In 2011, the NCAA reached a deal with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting for the television rights to broadcast the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament.[12]  The fourteen year, $11 billion deal essentially exploits the name, image and likeness of the athletes competing in the tournament to generate enormous commercial benefit that March Madness has to offer.[13]

Through this lawsuit Kessler plans to change this system.  His main objectives are to “strike down permanently the restrictions that prevent athletes in Division I basketball and the top tier of college football from being fairly compensated for the billions of dollars in revenues that they help generate.”[14]  “What we are saying is that it is fundamentally unfair for there to be rules that prevent athletes who create all of this to receive nothing in return.”[15]

A change to this system is necessary and is most likely inevitable as the NCAA continues to find itself in several other lawsuits regarding the current compensation and medical care system in place.[16]  Without a change, the rules will continue to prevent student-athletes from benefitting off their own labor, name, and image while the NCAA will continue to bring in record profits on the back of the very individuals who put fans in the seats.


[1] Kurt Scott, Breaking Down Why the NCAA Absolutely Must Pay Exploited Athletes, Bleacher Report (Jun. 22, 2012), http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1231923-breaking-down-why-the-ncaa-absolutely-must-pay-exploited-athletes.

[2] Id.

[3] Tab Bamford, ESPN & the SEC: The Official End of Amateur Athletics, Chicago Now (May 2, 2013, 2:51 PM), http://www.chicagonow.com/daily-chicago-sports-tab/2013/05/espn-the-sec-the-official-end-of-amateur-athletics/

[4] Id.

[5] Robert H. Jordan, Jr., NLRB Holds Hearing on NU Football Players Union Petition, WGNtv.com (Feb. 2, 2014), http://wgntv.com/2014/02/12/nlrb-holds-hearing-on-nu-football-players-union-petition/.

[7] Id.

[8] Sara Ganim, ‘Amateurism is a myth’: Athletes file class-action against NCAA, CNN.com (March, 17, 2013), http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/17/justice/ncaa-student-athletes-payment-lawsuit/

[9] Id.

[10] NCAA Constitution.

[11] Tab Bamford, ESPN & the SEC: The Official End of Amateur Athletics, Chicago Now (May 2, 2013, 2:51 PM), http://www.chicagonow.com/daily-chicago-sports-tab/2013/05/espn-the-sec-the-official-end-of-amateur-athletics/ (nothing that university bookstores generate substantial revenue from jersey sales of their top athletes, while the individual athlete doesn’t see any profit).

[12] Kristen R. Muenzen, Weakening Its Own Defense? The NCAA’s Version of Amateurism, 13 Marq. Sports L. Rev. 257, 260 n. 16 (2003) available at http://scholarship.law.marquette.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1276&context=sportslaw

[13] Id.

[15] Sara Ganim, ‘Amateurism is a myth’: Athletes file class-action against NCAA, CNN.com (March, 17, 2013), http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/17/justice/ncaa-student-athletes-payment-lawsuit/

[16] Robert H. Jordan, Jr., NLRB Holds Hearing on NU Football Players Union Petition, WGNtv.com (Feb. 2, 2014), http://wgntv.com/2014/02/12/nlrb-holds-hearing-on-nu-football-players-union-petition/.

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One thought on “NCAA Hit with Another Lawsuit Regarding Student-Athlete Compensation

  1. […] NCAA Hit with Another Lawsuit Regarding Student-Athlete Compensation […]

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