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February 3, 2021

NCAA Student Athletes: Are They Properly Compensated?

National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) student athletes witness educational institutions, surrounding communities and the sports industry profiting from their labor and hard work; however, many athletes do not feel they are being adequately compensated.  

The NCAA earns more than $1.1. billion in annual revenue from televised college sports and has governed athletic programs of its member colleges and universities with complete sovereignty for more than 100 years.

Are Student Athletes Getting Their Fair Share?

A growing number of athletes are questioning the compensations they receive from NCAA member colleges and universities. These athletes seek a more equitable payment for the value they provide to these institutions. At the heart of the athletes’ complaints is the argument that their hard work, skill and talent results in hefty profits for educational institutions and minimal compensation for the athlete.

Historically, the NCAA is run and its board is composed of a majority of white male executives. In contrast, many NCAA student athletes are people of color.  As of 2019, over 48% of NCAA Division 1 football players were African American and over 55% of NCAA Division 1 basketball players were African American. 

For years, athletes have asked the NCAA to recognize a more equitable revenue share that better represents their contribution and investment of the time, work and commitment they give to college sport.

The NCAA has played lip service to discussions involving the issue and largely ignored athletes’ requests.  The NCAA claims that college level athletes are amateur players who are sufficiently compensated with tuition, room and board. 

Entering A Legal Battle With The NCAA

After years of dispute, student athletes and the NCAA entered into a civil lawsuit that has now made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Soon, lawyers for the NCAA will argue that college athletes are amateurs and that payment, in addition to scholarships, result in these players being indistinguishable from professional athletes.

In contrast, student athletes are expected to assert that the NCAA is improperly benefiting from their labor and violating federal statutes.

In this court case, these young athletes have witnessed how the adults around them at every level of society, are compensated in exchange for services: from the staff who maintain the gyms and fields where they practice and play, to the drivers who transport them to away games, to the faculty who teach their classes, as well as the television and radio broadcasters who comment on their games. 

As such, when these athletes appear before the Supreme Court, it may advance their argument if they remind the leaders of the NCAA that economic notions of fairness and inequity should not change solely because the labor is performed by student athletes.

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