US College Athletes May Soon Get Paid

06:06 June 1, 2024

US College Athletes May Soon Get Paid

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the five biggest college sports conferences recently agreed to pay almost $2.8 billion to settle claims from college athletes.

The NCAA is the organization that runs college sports in the United States. It oversees about 500,000 college athletes from some 1,100 schools.

The claims came up over the past 10 years. The legal files argued that the NCAA and the conferences prevented college athletes from making money while playing sports for the schools.

The agreement calls for the NCAA and the conferences to pay $2.77 billion over 10 years to more than 14,000 former and current college athletes.

The settlement still needs approval from a U.S. federal judge and different parties to the legal case. If it is approved, students who play sports for their colleges will be permitted to be paid, like professional athletes, directly by the schools.

Under current NCAA rules, college athletes, also known as student-athletes, can only receive payments from outside groups that use their names, images, and likenesses in commercial efforts, such as advertisements.

In a statement, NCAA President Charlie Baker and the school representatives said the agreement was “an important step in the continuing reform of college sports.”

Steve Berman, a leading lawyer in the cases, said with the settlement, “college athletes are finally able to receive a fair share of the billions of dollars of revenue that they generate for their schools.”

Ramogi Huma, a strong supporter of college athletes’ rights, played football at the University of California, Los Angeles in the 1990s. He called the decision “groundbreaking”, adding that “there’s no going back from there.”

More questions remain

Although the decision provides a reason for celebration for some current and former students, it leaves more questions for others.

Earlier in 2024, members of Dartmouth College’s basketball team voted to join a labor organization, called a union. The move means that the student-athletes on the team could have the right to negotiate a working contract like other university employees.

Chris Peck is the leader of the union that represents the Dartmouth basketball players. He criticized the decision to settle by calling it “a workaround.”

Peck noted that the agreement, calling for universities to share money from television deals and ticket sales with athletes, does not answer whether students who play sports are school employees. The union wants a clear answer. Are students who play sports employees? Or, are they more like those who participate in non-study activities like singing in a group?

Dartmouth has yet to accept the students’ union vote. And the NCAA is asking the U.S. Congress to step in and say student-athletes are not employees.

Tim Walton coaches the women’s softball team at the University of Florida. The school belongs to one of the large conferences that will have to pay millions of dollars into the settlement.

Walton wants to know what will happen to sports like women’s softball that do not bring in money like men’s football or basketball. He asked: “Are they dropping programs? Are they dropping sports?”

In addition, there is a law in the U.S. known as Title IX that requires women and men to have equal rights in education. Does the law require female student-athletes to get paid like men?

Michael LeRoy is a sports law professor at the University of Illinois. He said there will be a concern if “women get short-changed.”

Christina Stylianou is a sports lawyer in New York. She and LeRoy both said regular payments from universities to students will make it easier for the students to argue that they are indeed employees.

LeRoy said the NCAA would like to be able to pay student-athletes but not consider them employees. That, he noted, would mean the NCAA “is going to be treated differently than any other business in America. You cannot have separate pay.”

But one college softball player, Tiare Jennings of the University of Oklahoma, did not seem too concerned about the legal questions. She was celebrating the fact that she might have some money saved after college.

She said it will be nice for players to know they have money to, in her words, “kick-start your life.”

I’m Dan Friedell. And I'm Jill Robbins.

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