Challenging the bogus amateurism of the NCAA

Last week a federal judge struck another blow against the bogus amateurism shield that the NCAA uses to prevent having to share its enormous revenues with the students who make all that money for them.

On Friday, a federal judge made college sports history when she ruled that the NCAA could not deny players from profiting from the use of their likenesses on TV or in video games. In doing so, Judge Claudia Wilken laid down two rules: (1) Schools can put up to $5,000 a year in a trust for athletes; and (2) they can offer more comprehensive scholarships that cover the full cost of attending college.

While not a landmark decision in itself, observers think (and I hope) that this will pave the way for the next ruling that will demolish this pretense altogether.

That’s because its upcoming legal battle could kill the governing body as we know it. Representing four former college athletes, big-time sports labor lawyer Jeffrey Kessler is targeting the NCAA and its five biggest conferences—the Atlantic Coast, the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Pacific 12, and the Southeastern—in an effort to dismantle the NCAA’s “amateur” system entirely. In a powerfully worded claim, he writes that the defendants “have lost their way far down the road of commercialism,” adding that their refusal to pay student-athletes is “illegal,” “pernicious,” and has brought “substantial damages…upon a host of college athletes whose services have yielded riches only for others.” The offering of scholarship money, he writes, is not nearly enough. “This class action is necessary to end the NCAA’s unlawful cartel, which is inconsistent with the most fundamental principles of antitrust law.”

The athletes represented in Jenkins v. NCAA—all onetime Division I basketball and football players—aren’t seeking damages, but rather an injunction that would make the status quo illegal, open up athlete compensation to market forces, and basically blow up the NCAA as currently constructed.

This clip from The Daily Show from a couple of months ago featured Kain Colter, the Northwestern University football player whose claim that what he did was a job and that student athletes should be allowed to unionize was upheld by the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board and started this ball rolling.

(This clip aired on June 10, 2014. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)


  1. lpetrich says

    Sort of like the Olympics? It has the pretension that all its participants must be amateurs, despite it being impossible to perform very well unless one is a de facto professional.

    There is a document that is supposedly a Soviet press-censorship list, a long list of subjects that the Soviet Union’s news media was not allowed to talk about. It included the travel plans of Soviet leaders, the censorship system itself, intelligence agencies’ operations, details on crime and prisoners and prisons, how many illiterate people, details of accidents and natural disasters, the ruble’s purchasing power relative to other currencies, the population’s income vs. spending, hostile actions against Soviet citizens, cost of tourist services vs. prices charged tourists, arms sales abroad, anything that suggests armed-forces poor behavior, how many drug addicts, on-the-job injuries, the audibility of foreign radio stations, and this one:

    Information about the duration of all-union [nationwide] training sessions for athletes; information about the rates of pay for athletes; information about the money prizes for good results in sports competitions; information about the finance, maintenance, and staff of athletic teams.

  2. dean says

    lpetrich, the “requirement” that an athlete hold amateur status in order to participate in the Olympics hasn’t been in effect since 1986, when the International Federation gave professionals permission to compete in every sport.

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