Last month, college football players at Northwestern University took the unprecedented step to petition the National Labor Relations Board to form a union – a step that will soon require the NLRB to determine whether Northwestern football players are “employees” under the meaning of the National Labor Relations Act.
At the same time, a class of Division I college football and men’s basketball players are serving as plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association – a lawsuit that is designed to overturn the NCAA’s collective no-pay rules under Section One of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
Nevertheless, the recent wave of student-athlete uprisings against the NCAA shouldn’t be at all surprising.
When looking closely at the current model for Division I college sports, one could only wonder why these student-athlete uprisings took so long.
The college sports marketplace is perhaps the most one-sided labor relationship that exists today in American society.
At the Division I level, the NCAA operates much like a professional sports league. The NCAA annually produces nearly $11 Billion in revenue from the operation of college sports — more than the estimated league totals for either the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League.
Meanwhile the University of Alabama reported $143.3 million in athletic revenues last year — more than the revenues of each of 30 NHL teams, and 25 of the 30 NBA teams.
Nevertheless, while professional sports leagues generally allocate 40-50% of revenues to labor costs, the NCAA continues to implement an association-wide rule that ensures 0% of college sports’ revenues are shared with their athletes — not even upon their graduation. As a result, the NCAA Principle of Amateurism ensures that a substantial share of college sports’ revenues stay ”in the hands of a select few administrators, athletic directors, and coaches.”
Based upon the NCAA’s current mode of operation, the average 2011 salary for BCS eligible head football coaches was $2.05 million, and the average salary for premier Division I basketball coaches exceeded $1 Million.
Some coaches do even better under the current system for college sports.
At the University of Alabama, the school’s football coach Nick Saban recently signed a new contract will pay him over $7 million per year from his university – more than 160 times the average wage of a Tuscaloosa public school teacher. Similarly at Duke University, USA Today reports that head basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, “was credited with nearly $9.7 million in compensation during the 2011 calendar year.”
Meanwhile, the student-athletes who devote on average more than 40 hours per week to their sport are not even provided with the full value of a college educational experience.
Because of the revenue structure of modern college sports, student-athletes are regularly pulled from the classroom to play games at times that accommodate national television broadcasts but not their own course schedules. This year, the NCAA scheduled its Division I football championship on a Monday night in early January, overlapping with Florida State football players’ first day of spring semester classes.
Similarly, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament will likely force at least some student-athletes to miss more than six days of spring classes. Likewise, at Syracuse University, where the school’s head football coach Jim Boeheim recently described the paying of student-athletes as ‘idiotic,’ an NCAA men’s basketball championship season could reasonably affect up to one quarter of the teams’ class days during the spring semester. At some other schools, the number of required missed days of class may be even higher.
The NCAA’s leaders have no shortage of excuses the defend their actions, and seek to maintain the status quo. The NCAA’s newest excuse against improving the working conditions of college athletes is that Title IX of the Patty T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act would prevent any arrangement that would lead for greater net compensation for male student-athletes.
Nevertheless, as NCAA lawyers know as well as anyone, their reading of Title IX is, at best, doubtful. As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held in Stanley v. University of Southern California, 13 F.3d 1313 (9th Cir. 1994), higher revenue generating ability is one factor that ,may allow for higher compensation of men’s college coaches. Thus, one would presume compensating student-athletes based on their revenue generating potential presents absolutely no bona fide Title IX concern.
For all of these reasons, Division I college football and men’s basketball players have more than ample reason to demand systematic change to college sports — even if it means doing so through unionizing or by taking the NCAA to court.
Marc Edelman is an Associate Professor of Law at the City University of New York’s Baruch College, Zicklin School of Business, where he has published more than 25 law review articles on sports law matters. His most recent articles including “A Short Treatise on Amateurism and Antitrust Law” and “The Future of Amateurism after Antitrust Scrutiny.”
Source: Forbes Business