Ok – decisions in civil litigation are not my usual topic but the last week’s decision in O’Bannon et al v. NCAA cannot go without comment. For years major universities have been profiting off student athletes, athletes who sometimes come from bad neighborhoods and college sports is their only way out. Students have little to no bargaining power when dealing with massive universities. On the other hand universities have gotten rich and so have coaches and administrators. Some college football coaches earn annual salaries over $1million per year. Sure some of the student athletes got rich after they went pro – others were left with head trauma and bodies that are ruined. The NCAA has hidden behind the claims that college athletes are ‘amateurs’ and should not be paid to play. The NCAA makes those claims after the organization and the universities involved make millions upon millions of dollars from these ‘amateurs’ every year. Judge Claudia Wilken, a federal district judge in Oakland, said enough is enough.
…[T]he NCAA violates antitrust law by agreeing with its member schools to restrain their ability to compensate Division I men’s basketball and FBS football players any more than the current association rules allow.
In her 99 page opinion the judge blasted the NCAA when she rejected the NCAA’s claims and said the NCAA had failed to provide any credible evidence to support its claims.
This decision comes at the same time there is a significant push amongst some college athletes at Northwestern to unionize has also been gaining in traction. The National Labor Relations Board issued a decision ruling that the players were in fact employees of the university and therefore had the right to form a union. The university and the NCAA are fighting the NLRB’s decision. The NCAA argued against player’s right to unionize, saying the decision to unionize could have “significant and irreversible, negative impact on the future of intercollegiate athletics and higher education in the United States”. Currently athletes who are injured so they can no longer play can lose their scholarships. Unionization could change that rule and provide far greater protection for college athletes.
College sports is big business. There is no credible argument why players, the people who generate the profits, should not be protected and compensated.