Sports Law

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Collegiate Athletes: Students, Staff, or Somewhere in the Middle?

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Collegiate Athletes: Students, Staff, or Somewhere in the Middle?

Drew Chlan*

Are American college athletes, students, employees, or a combination of the two? The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the governing body of American collegiate athletic teams, strongly emphasizes a student-athlete remaining an amateur.  See NCAA, 2009-10 NCAA Division I Manual (2009),  The NCAA states in its bylaws that a student-athlete is:

[N]ot eligible for participation in a sport if after full-time collegiate enrollment [the student has] ever:

  1. Taken pay, or the promise of pay, for competing in that sport;
  2. Agreed (orally or in writing) to compete in professional athletics in that sport;
  3. Competed on any professional athletics team (as defined by the NCAA) in that sport; or
  4. Used your athletics skill for pay in any form in that sport. (Prior to collegiate enrollment, an individual may accept prize money based only on his or her place finish or performance from the sponsor of an open athletics event, the United States Olympic Committee or the appropriate national governing body and actual and necessary expenses associated with the individual’s practice and competition on a professional team.)

Id. § l2.1.3., .5.  While the NCAA’s adherence to an amateur student-athlete model may be based on altruistic notions of uncompensated, academically successful athletes remaining a part of a college’s diverse fabric, a change in status from student-athletes to employees would require the financial reconstruction of collegiate athletics and collegiate budgets.  See, e.g., Karl Borden, College Football Players Deserve a Share of the Spoils, Wall St. J. (Jan. 23, 2014), (proposing that colleges contribute 25% of gross football revenues to a trust fund authorized to make post-eligibility payments to players); Joe Nocera, Let’s Start Paying College Athletes, N.Y. Times (Dec. 30, 2011), (proposing minimum salaries of $25,000/year for players).  As the NCAA and its respective conferences continue to receive record-shattering amounts of revenue each year, the concept of amateur student-athletes has routinely been criticized. (more…)