Student athletes and college sports are a big part of college life. We love to watch them, and we cheer on our school’s team. But despite the popularity of college basketball, football and other sports, the athletes don’t get paid like the professional athletes do.
Ed O’Bannon, a former UCLA basketball player, brought the issue of unpaid college athletes to court, and the case has gone to the Supreme Court.
Paycheck for college athletes?
The debate over whether college athletes should be paid has been raging for years. College sports, especially football and basketball, are billion dollar a year industries. While the athletes do receive scholarships to attend college and other perks, the school and the television stations that carry the immensely popular games are raking in billions. For example, in April, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) extended its men’s basketball tournament deal with the CBS and Turner channels for $8.8 billion in television rights through to 2032.
Taking the issue to court
Former University of California, Los Angeles basketball player Ed O’Bannon joined more than 20 other current and former athletes to sue for compensation for the commercial use of their names and their images in video games, recordings, and other commercial purposes.
Another issue brought up was the amount of time spent on their sports. O’Bannon said he spent 40-45 hours per week on basketball when he played. “I was an athlete masquerading as a student,” said O’Bannon, in “Supreme Court Won’t Review Disputes Over Whether College Athletes Should Be Paid,” by Lawrence Hurley posted in Huffington Post October 3, 2016.
In the case, “The N.C.A.A. responded that college athletes were amateurs and that the distinctive nature of college sports would be destroyed by turning a scholastic model into a professional one,” reported in “Supreme Court Declines to Consider N.C.A.A. Rules on Paying Athletes,” by Adam Liptak in New York Times October 3, 2016. The NCAA also said that use of athletes’ names and images is free speech, which is protected by the First Amendment.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in September 2015 that the NCAA’s treatment of athletes as amateurs and imposing a ban on allowing athletes to be paid for the use of their images on television and in video games all violated federal antitrust laws. However, the appeal’s court rejected another judge’s suggestion that colleges pay student athletes up to $5,000 per year as compensation.
All the way to the Supreme Court
The case went to the Supreme Court, which just declined to hear the case, rather letting the finding of the lower court hold, which asserts that the NCAA’s “amateur rules” violate antitrust laws. Those findings mean that the NCAA cannot bar colleges from offering full scholarship and cost of attendance payments to student athletes.
Some progress made
O’Bannon’s goal was to get people talking about solutions. “I’ve always felt like win or lose, our biggest thing was at least we would start dialogue,” O’Bannon said in “Ed O’Bannon: Victory vs. NCAA isn’t everything, but ‘it’s only right that we do win,’” by Natalie Williams posted on AL.com August 19, 2015. “At least people would talk about the problems that these athletes are facing,” said O’Bannon, who hoped that his lawsuit would encourage athletes to speak up for their rights.
While the case is still pending, the publicity and conversation over the issue have been heard. The NCAA has instituted some changes and improvements, such as increasing the value of an athletic scholarship, paying cost-of-attendance stipends, offering stipends to allow family members to travel to games, and paying athletes for their images in video games.