Pros and Cons: Why the NCAA Should Pay Its Athletes

By: Jessica Schild

On Monday, the Supreme Court denied the petitions of former college athletes to review the amateurism model of college sports.[1] This amateurism model prevents players from receiving any sort of compensation beyond that of the scholarship packages awarded to them.[2] The Supreme Court’s denial seems to affirm the Ninth Circuit ruling that players can only be compensated up to the cost of attending college.[3] This ruling comes after college football players in 2014 petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) to form a union.[4] If a collegiate athlete is an “employee” under a union agreement, then the rationale is that they should be paid like one.[5]

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) claims that college athletes are just students.[6] In fact, the term “student-athlete,” is meant to distinguish college athletes from employees who receive general compensation.[7] However, what the NCAA and the NLRB fail to distinguish, is that the NCAA requires athletes to miss classes for televised games that bring in large amounts of revenue.[8] In fact, college athletes involved in the NCAA men’s basketball championship may even miss up to one-fourth of all classes during the semester in which they are in season.[9] The NCAA generates more revenue from these athletic events than from both the National Basketball Association (“NBA”) and the National Hockey League (“NHL”) combined.[10]

Most people, including the Justices sitting on the Supreme Court, find the facts against these statistics more convincing. According to the Ninth Circuit, caps on student athlete compensation are anti-competitive.[11] However, the court reasoned that these caps were justified due to their pro-competitive benefits.[12] “The decision overturned the lower court ruling that would have allowed [college] athletes to receive up to $5,000 per year in deferred cash payments for use of their names, images and likenesses . . . .”[13] Courts have agreed that any payments outside of the educational likeness destroys amateurism.[14]

Recently, the NCAA has attempted to implement programs in an effort to reduce the amount of time athletes spend practicing and playing, and increase the amount of time that athletes spend doing school-work.[15] These reforms certainly benefit the average NCAA student-athlete.[16] The “student-athlete” concept is often emphasized by universities and colleges because of it’s structure: the “student” always comes first. However, most college athletes will tell you that in their eyes, this is not case. The question still remains whether or not college athletes can pursue compensation not tethered to educational expenses.[17] It will be interesting to see how pending and future decisions impact the economics of college athletics.[18]

[1] Zachary Zagger, High Court Stays Out Of College Athlete Pay Debate, For Now, Law360 (Oct. 3, 2016, 9:49 PM), https://www.law360.com/employment/articles/847748/high-court-stays-out-of-college-athlete-pay-debate-for-now.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Marc Edelman, 21 Reasons Why Student-Athletes Are Employees And Should Be Allowed To Unionize, Forbes (Jan. 30, 2014, 10:11 PM), http://www.forbes.com/sites/marcedelman/2014/01/30/21-reasons-why-student-athletes-are-employees-and-should-be-allowed-to-unionize/#609fb0f62991.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Zachary Zagger, College Player Compensation Issue Rages On Despite Reforms, Law360 (Jan. 10, 2016, 11:55 PM), http://www.law360.com/articles/744540/college-player-compensation-issue-rages-on-despite-reforms?article_related_content=1.

[8] Edelman, supra note 4.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Zachary Zagger, No Matter The Claims, NCAA Athletes As Employees A Stretch, Law360 (Oct. 4, 2016, 8:46 PM), http://www.law360.com/employment/articles/846963/no-matter-the-claims-ncaa-athletes-as-employees-a-stretch?nl_pk=c5fa9cea-3aee-41ad-a945-8000cc179cd9&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=employment.

[12] Id.

[13] Zagger, supra note 1.

[14] Id.

[15] Zagger, supra note 7.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

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