Have you been working on your March Madness bracket? I’m proud to announce that I’m participating for the first time in my life and chose brackets entirely based off of how unsettling each team’s mascot is. I’m really excited to see how this shakes out.
But such an exciting time for college basketball also brings issues of college athlete compensation to the forefront of an employment lawyer’s mind. Only very recently have college athletes been afforded additional protections and considerations under the law that acknowledge the amount of labor they provide to the NCAA. College athletes are not quite designated as employees, but maybe that door is opening after the NCAA v. Alston case. However, it’s a very important note that this is technically an anti-trust case, not an employment case. Anti-trust is an area of (mostly federal) laws that regulate the conduct and organization of business to promote competition and prevent monopolies, but discussions about monopolies and industries necessarily require conversations about the workers that fuel them.
The NCAA v. Alston case has been making headlines in the world of college athletics since it was first filed back in 2014. The case centers around the question of whether or not the NCAA’s rules regarding compensation for student-athletes are in violation of federal antitrust laws. On June 21, 2021, the United States Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, stating that the NCAA’s rules did indeed violate antitrust laws.
The case was initially filed by former West Virginia football player Shawne Alston and several other college athletes, who argued that the NCAA’s rules prohibiting student-athletes from receiving compensation beyond their scholarships were unfair and anticompetitive. To put things into perspective, the NCAA generates roughly $1 billion in revenue every year due to the efforts of its student athletes. However, it strictly regulates how athletes are compensated. The NCAA, for its part, argued that such rules were necessary to preserve the amateur status of college athletics and to ensure that student-athletes remained students first and athletes second. (Which is hard to believe, given the sheer amount of time and dedication it requires to be a student athlete, especially at the DI level).
In its unanimous ruling in 2021, the Supreme Court rejected the NCAA’s arguments and stated that the organization’s rules had “significant anticompetitive effects” that violated federal antitrust laws. The Court did address whether college athletes should be paid salaries, but it did open the door for student-athletes to receive more benefits beyond their scholarships. For example, students can now be compensated for being featured in ad campaigns instead of being expected to provide free labor in that respect.
The implications of the NCAA v. Alston ruling are significant for college athletes and the world of college athletics as a whole. For one thing, it paved the way for student-athletes to receive more financial benefits, such as stipends for living expenses, or compensation for their name, image, and likeness. It could also lead to more competition among schools for top talent, as universities may be able to offer more attractive compensation packages to recruits.
At the same time, however, the ruling raises a number of questions about how compensation for college athletes should be structured and regulated. While some have called for a free-market approach that would allow athletes to negotiate their own deals with schools and sponsors, others worry that such an approach could create an uneven playing field and lead to exploitation of student-athletes.
Ultimately, the NCAA v. Alston case is just one chapter in an ongoing debate about the role of college athletics in American society. And with how uniquely American college sports are, for many this feels like unchartered territory. But should it be? It’s a basic premise that people should be paid for their work. The debates continues where people consider whether or not a full college scholarship is adequate compensation for the amount of work student athletes do on behalf of the NCAA.
College athletics is a strange animal in the field of labor and employment. Put very plainly, federal and state laws dictate that you must receive for work done. Are you in a wage dispute with your employer? Contact me in Dallas or one of our other talented Texas employment lawyers in Austin or Houston today.