NCAA Ban On Paying Athletes: Violation Of Federal Law?


ESPN analyst Jay Bilas has been an outspoken critic of the NCAA and the organization’s circumvention of labor laws by not paying their highest revenue earning athletes, and yesterday spoke on NPR to reiterate that position, along with several other notable former players and coaches:

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski made $9.7 million last year, according to USA Today. The people running around in the middle of the court – the players – are, of course, not getting paid. That’s because a long time ago, a bunch of colleges got together and said scholarships are fine, but paying athletes is against the rules. Next week’s arguments in federal court will turn on a simple question – are those rules a violation of federal law?

It’s a good read and it should be noted that even though the NCAA is using some very tenuous defenses to avoid paying for the highest profile athletes, most college athletes would never fall into this category. It should also be noted that sports leagues such as the NBA and NFL actually have exemptions from federal laws which effectively allow them to operate like cartels.

One significant point here is that the NCAA is making massive amounts of money off of a few players, specifically, the players who are most likely to turn pro at some level and whose schools have rabid fan bases. ESPN and CBS are not paying the NCAA huge contracts for the rights just to broadcast East Carolina versus Davidson, the really large payouts are because schools like Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Duke and Connecticut are effectively a minor league to the NBA with a huge built in audience. This holds true even more so for college football, where teams like Alabama and Tennessee bring in viewers which are only rivaled by the NFL.

The NCAA doesn’t want anyone to look at the difference between college lacrosse players from Towson and college football players from Alabama, although in reality there is a major difference. the vast majority of college athletes across the country get a pretty good deal – college scholarship for being good at a sport. But for a select few, they are getting a raw deal – their likenesses and skills are being sold for millions while they are given a comped education at best. Anyone who buys the NCAA argument that those athletes are getting a ‘free education’ are bad at math. With that math, the NBA and Cleveland Cavaliers would be paying Lebron James about $150k per year in gift cards in exchange for the millions in revenue he brings in.

This isn’t a position that the NCAA can keep forever and it will fall at some point. It’s just a matter of time.

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