The debate surrounding the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) amateurism principles has waged for decades. The governing body of college athletics insists that the athletes who compete on a daily basis should not—or shall not—receive any compensation in exchange for their services while NCAA executives line their pockets with billions of dollars each year. This concept of “no pay for play” has drawn national criticism since the NCAA created the term “student-athlete” in the 1950s to combat a workers’ compensation claim. The amateurism principles were concocted as an attempt to prevent college athletes from being classified as employees of their universities; put more plainly, the NCAA intentionally labeled college athletes as “amateurs” to deny the athletes the compensation they are entitled to.
Athletes have challenged the NCAA’s amateurism principles under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in the past, petitioning courts to recognize athletes as “employees” of their universities, but to no avail. Courts traditionally rely on an “economic reality” test to determine whether an employer–employee relationship exists, entitling the petitioning party to guaranteed protections under federal labor laws. In the context of college athletics, however, the economic reality of the relationship between the athletes, their universities, and the NCAA is traditionally defined by the NCAA’s concept of amateurism. But what happens when amateurism is exposed for the sham of a concept it truly is?
This Note explores how recent judicial, legislative, and societal events have eviscerated the credibility of the NCAA’s amateurism principles. Specifically, this Note argues that a district court order, though issued in the antitrust context, precludes future courts from relying on the amateurism principles to define the economic reality of college athletics. The case, In re National Collegiate Athletic Ass’n Athletic Grant-in-Aid Cap Antitrust Litigation (Alston), exposes the hypocrisy behind the NCAA’s compensation rules in a way that changes the calculus of an FLSA challenge and demands a finding that college athletes qualify as employees under federal labor laws. Now, the Supreme Court is set to get involved, granting certiorari to review Alston and allow the Court to assess the amateurism principles for the first time in thirty-five years. With the pressure surrounding the NCAA’s exploitation of college athletes reaching an all-time high, this Note proposes that the NCAA proactively abandon its commitment to its antiquated concept of amateurism and afford college athletes the basic fundamental rights they are entitled to through collective bargaining and group licensing agreements.
The NCAA has stubbornly insisted on labeling college athletes as “amateurs” when reality reflects that the athletes are anything but. In fact, the only distinguishing factor that separates college athletes from their professional counterparts is the arbitrary—and frankly insulting—label that the NCAA desperately clings to. No longer can the charade continue. The NCAA’s time is up; amateur hour is over.
Nicholas C. Daly,
Amateur Hour Is Over: Time for College Athletes to Clock In Under the FLSA,
Ga. St. U. L. Rev.
Available at: https://readingroom.law.gsu.edu/gsulr/vol37/iss2/7