“If they could figure out a plan that’s equitable for everybody, then yeah, why shouldn’t they,” Geno Auriemma asked, when talking about the potential payment of college athletes on his SNY show.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association has been operating as a monopoly; or, more specifically, a monopsony. A monopsony exists when a market has multiple producers and only one consumer. In this case, the producers are the athletes (who are producing talent), and the consumer is the NCAA. With only one organization responsible for college athletics, the NCAA gets to practice complete market power in the name of one word: amateurism.
By claiming the importance of a student’s education, the NCAA has been able to get away with not paying their athletes, despite the amount of revenue taken in by the organization every year. The NCAA often argues that students receive compensation in the form of scholarships and grants paid out to their athletes. This system, however, is failing. First, the cost the NCAA pays in scholarships is far below what the market dictates an athlete should actually receive. Second, it has even been reported that schools such as the University of North Carolina have “paper classes,” which are fake classes with grades high enough to boost an athlete’s GPA to the minimum 2.3 required by the NCAA.
While it may not be as extreme in all schools, there is evidence for sub-par athlete education all across the country. If the only form of compensation being given to college athletes is their education, it should be a good education. College athletes often struggle to post high GPAs, but it’s rarely their fault. The fact is, the little amount of time that student-athletes have to dedicate toward athletics makes it extremely difficult to remain a good student. They push their bodies to the point of exhaustion, and then are expected to stay up doing homework. This is a failing of the NCAA, not of the athletes.
My argument is not necessarily that the NCAA should be responsible for paying athletes. Rather, it would be easy enough for them to simply revoke the ban on receiving endorsement deals or appearance fees. In a recent case, O’Bannon v. NCAA, plaintiff Ed O’Bannon and 19 other former basketball and football players argued that the NCAA violates antitrust laws. Their argument was in regards to NCAA video games, in which the likeness of a player is used (their team, their number, their physical attributes) and yet the player receives no compensation. The original ruling on this case favored the student-athlete. The NCAA was required to set up trust funds for athletes to become available upon graduation. There was a cap, however, of $5,000 per year. The NCAA appealed to the Ninth Circuit, and this trust fund was revoked. The judges in this case, instead, decided that the NCAA was responsible for paying all costs of attendance for student athletes. As of March 2016, this case was appealed by O’Bannon to the Supreme Court.
Should the Supreme Court hear this case, I think it is likely that the NCAA will lose. However, it is not unheard of for the Supreme Court to allow antitrust exemptions in sports. Famously, Major League Baseball has, to this day, an antitrust exemption. Fortunately for professional baseball players, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association was able to overcome many obstacles put forth by this monopoly and earn fair salaries through arbitration and free agency. This could never be achieved in college sports, primarily because the NCAA has been able to block college athletes from unionizing.
Recently, former athletes of Northwestern University filed a claim with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that they were employees of the college and thus should be granted the right to unionize. The NLRB’s response was to toss the issue aside without making any kind of definitive ruling. They did not say whether or not they believed that student-athletes should be considered employees. They simply stated everything that could go wrong if they were to make a ruling in favor of the athletes. Namely, that the competitive balance would be upset within the NCAA if one school were allowed to unionize while others could not. Additionally, they can only speak for the private sector, so there would be a discrepancy between public and private universities.
These are all valid points for the NLRB, which cannot make a blanket decision on this matter. For now, NCAA athletes have no pay and no say. They are governed by regulations that are antiquated and, frankly, illegal. Those who do not go on to play professionally will never see a return on their time spent playing sports, will have had no time to make and save money while in college, and will have likely performed poorly in school compared to non-student-athletes. They’re being set up to fail. If the Supreme Court doesn’t hear O’Bannon’s case, NCAA athletes will have to find a way to come together and fight for unionization. That’s the only way to prevent this monopsony from continuing for decades to come.
Rachel Schaefer is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.