NCAA Amateurism: College Athletes And Their Rights


A high school athlete’s greatest moment is when they have their Signing Day. It is a day where the athlete knows their hard work has paid off, and that they will continue their education while participating in a sport that they love. This athlete’s life, however, is about to change forever. As the athlete arrives on their new campus for preseason, they are given numerous papers that must be read, and signed. Inevitably, these athletes sign into contracts concerning usage of their likeness, amateurism, participation in events outside of the NCAA, and considerations on gifts or earnings. But what is contained in these contracts? Who gains different rights from athletes? The easy answer is the NCAA and university/ college of the student, but the complex answer is anyone associated with those entities. Vital to this issue, however, is comprehension and a solution.

The paperwork athletes’ sign terms, words, and other legalese that many 18 year olds don’t quite understand. The contractual agreements that are a necessity for college athletes to sign include use of the athlete’s image, ability to showcase the athlete’s talents, hindrance of athlete’s performance in non-sanctioned NCAA events, and many others. From here, the NCAA and the university or college of the athlete’s choice then receives those rights. For instance, when an athlete agrees to go to a university, that university has the right to use the image of that student in promotions for multiple uses including promotion of the athletic department, or promotion for the university itself. The NCAA further gains these rights including athlete eligibility, promotion of the NCAA’s ideals, and even promotion in televised events. These rights provide for billions of dollars into the collegiate business industry, and thus alterations to the current situation are limited.

Numerous solutions to the rampant of NCAA-college athlete issues concerning have been reviewed. For instance, the student-athletes at Northwestern University have attempted to unionize. Similarly, athletes who have since ended their athletic careers such as Ed O’Bannon have brought cases against the NCAA for image usage. The NCAA contends that college athletes receive scholarships which should warrant enough payment for their skills. This is blinded by the fact that some scholarships are revocable due to injury from the sport, or lack of academic success.

So, what other solutions exist? One example is providing athletes with permanent scholarships and worthwhile educational skills they can use after their athletic careers. College athletes may seek payment for their efforts, but realistically this may be an impractical goal. Seeking proper support through technology for preparation and recovery before events, appropriate medical attention, and support for everyday needs may be a better avenue for college athletes who seek equal benefits, for the rights they give up. As Shabazz Napier once said, “I don’t feel student-athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars, but like I said, there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving.” Both the NCAA and athletes need a solution concerning the issues before its too late.


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One comment

  1. NCAA Amateurism is definitely a hot topic right now, and I enjoyed your piece. But I think if you’re going to write a piece about student-athletes and their rights, that you should present the whole picture. While your blog post is an enlightening piece and well put, I felt that it is missing information and is very one-sided.

    The forms that student-athletes sign are very straight forward and are not loaded with legalese. Even if you don’t have access to these forms or have never seen one or signed one, a quick browse around the NCAA website will show that the information that they provide is very straight forward. In addition, it should be noted that parents are encouraged to review documentation- for example, even signing an NLI requires a parent signature if the athlete is under 21 years of age. There are ways for the student-athlete to be informed about these documents, and the athletic compliance offices of each institution are there assisting along the way. They are not just signing their “rights” away in these very legal documents that they can’t possibly understand, as you seem to have put it.

    It’s quite obvious there’s a necessity for the institution to able to use the athlete’s name and likeness for their promotional materials, which I don’t think you would disagree with. It’s how they attract fans, it’s how they sell tickets- how else are they to support these hefty scholarships, new facilities, and the salaries of coaches and trainers. Using their name and likeness is a necessity in order to run a successful athletic department. But I think more importantly, and what a lot of people don’t consider, through this publicity of using their name and likeness, the student-athletes are better positioned to be evaluated for their talent by pro teams who watch their college careers. This can lower the uncertainty about the student-athlete’s future performance, which may translate to a larger contract when they go professional. This publicity does vary across athletes, but it is still something of value that comes from allowing the institutions to use their name and likeness.

    I also have an issue with you bluntly stating that the scholarships are revoked for injuries or lack of academic success… Very few institutions do multi-year scholarships, it is quite rare. With that being said, students are provided aid for one academic year at a time. The scholarships may be renewed for the next year. If a student is injured, like you have suggested, this would be considered when it comes time to renew the scholarship- the institution wouldn’t immediately revoke the scholarship in the middle of a season because an athlete got injured. Also, these institutions provide athletic trainers, physical therapists, and even reimburse medical expenses incurred due to a sport-related injury. The only time where an athletic department could revoke a scholarship before the year is over is for issues with eligibility, misconduct, or if the athlete quits or if the athlete commits fraud.

    And like you have stated, these scholarships are contingent on their academic success. But that comes with any kind of scholarship, whether you are a student-athlete or even a law student. This is nothing new when it comes to scholarships, and “permanent scholarships” definitely is not the answer at all. If a student does not meet the requirements of the institution to keep a scholarship, then they should not have one. They are fully aware before accepting the scholarship, what the conditions are. And maybe that sounds insensitive to what someone’s particular situation may be, but keep in mind that if an athlete loses a scholarship, there is an option to appeal. There are also grants that don’t have the same requirements that scholarships do, which student-athletes can be eligible for.

    I also think the Shabazz Napier comment should have been put in context -“hungry huskies”-, because it was definitely not meant to be taken literally, but more as a figure of speech. The athletes are given unlimited meals and snacks as part of their athletic participation. In addition, they receive a stipend every semester which is separate from their textbook and supplies expenses (they get that paid for as well).

    I think we can both agree that seeking payment for their participation is not practical. I really believe that student-athletes are afforded the ultimate opportunity. Most of the athletes receive hefty scholarships, and have access to a college education (if they decide to finish college and not declare early). They receive meal plans, most receive free room and board, and money for books and other expenses. They have access to academic counseling, tutoring, and training in life skills. They receive nutritional advice and have access to great facilities. Also, they are exposed to professional coaches and trainers that help them develop into better athletes. They receive free strength and fitness training. All of these benefits can easily exceed a value of over $100,000 per year for just one student-athlete.
    I live by the philosophy that where much is given, must is expected, and I think the same should be said for student-athletes. They are given the ultimate opportunity. Trying to find ways to compensate them or change scholarships are just going to lead to even more problems.

    Your blog post was a good piece, and obviously very thought provoking- I just wanted to share a different opinion and view on what you have stated, that may present the full picture for a reader.

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