BY: PAT VANHALL
There is a national “corporation” in the United States that brings in $10.6 billion in annual revenue and has over 1,200 “subsidiaries” across the country.[1. NCAA College Athletics Statistics, Statisticbrain.com, http://www.statisticbrain.com/ncaa-college-athletics-statistics/ (last visit February 1, 2013).] The company hosts thousands of live events annually and it has licensing agreements with television, radio, video games and many print-media outlets. These events and agreements alone usually bring in over $6 billion of revenue on a yearly basis.[2. Id.] Yet, the employees of this company aren’t even paid minimum wage. In fact, they are paid nothing at all. They are simply athletes playing for the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
I’d like to focus primarily on division one athletes that play in the two most popular sports, in terms of annual revenue, football and basketball. [3. The majority of these statistics are from the 2010-2011 school year as last year’s statistics have not been released.] The amount of revenue generated by athletics for each of the major conferences (Big East, SEC, ACC, Big10, etc.) is, on average, a staggering $75 million with the top coaches in the those conferences making $2-6 million a year. The players however, are barely getting by and even those given “full” scholarships are having trouble making ends meet. There are reports that say 85% of full scholarship FBS (Football Bowl Series) players are living below the federal poverty line.[4. Study: “The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sport,” NCPAnow.org, http://www.ncpanow.org/research?id=0024 (last visit February 1, 2013).] On average, players from FBS schools are worth over $100K and players from top basketball programs top out at twice that number and are worth over $200K.[5. Id.] And the average price of their scholarship shortfall? A little over two grand, which when taken in context is such a miniscule number.[6. Id.]
With the NCAA not acknowledging the players request for compensation, the players look to the Courts for relief. The first lawsuit was filed in 2009 and dealt with the NCAA using the likeness of its players for use in video games and profiting off that likeness without any compensation to the players themselves.[7. Student-athlete likeness lawsuit timeline, NCAA.org, http://www.ncaa.org/wps/wcm/connect/public/NCAA/Resources/Latest+News/2012/September/Student+athlete+likeness+lawsuit+timeline (last visit February 1, 2013).] The games did not use the names of the players, but distinguishing characteristics and attributes, as well as jersey numbers, clearly identify the players being depicted in the game.[8. More Troublesome Documents Released in NCAA Player Likeness Lawsuit, pastapadre.com, http://www.pastapadre.com/2012/11/13/more-troublesome-documents-released-in-ncaa-player-likeness-lawsuit (last visit February 1, 2013).] A second lawsuitalso filed in 2009, was found by U.S. District Court of Northern California Judge Claudia Wilken to be so similar that she granted a motion to consolidate the two proceedings into a class action in 2010.[9. Student-athlete likeness lawsuit timeline, NCAA.org, http://www.ncaa.org/wps/wcm/connect/public/NCAA/Resources/Latest+News/2012/September/Student+athlete+likeness+lawsuit+timeline (last visit February 1, 2013).] Since the consolidation, other athletes have joined the suit, including famous athletes like Oscar Robertson and Bill Russel.[10. Id. ]
The latest action in this case occurred this past Tuesday, January 29, when Judge Wilken denied the NCAA’s motion to dismiss and set a jury trial for June of this year.[11. NCAA athletes can pursue TV money, ESPN.com, http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/8895337/judge-rules-ncaa-athletes-legally-pursue-television-money (last visit February 1, 2013).] Both sides seem optimistic with the outcome of the latest ruling as the players take it as a sign of how strong their argument is and the NCAA has referenced the skepticism that Judge Wilken has hinted during her ruling.[12. Id.] Proponents for the players stress that this is not a salary, but simply a stipend to cover the real cost of living and the shortfall of scholarships.[13. Regardless of motives, addressing scholarship shortfall a good thing, sportsillustrated.com, http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/andy_staples/05/20/paying-players-attendance-cost/index.html (last visit February 1, 2013).] While skeptics have stressed the near impossibility that it would be to figure out damages if the players prevail.[14. The NCAA vs. Student Athletes: The End of the ‘the Best Business Model in the World’?, theatlantic.com, http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/01/the-ncaa-vs-student-athletes-the-end-of-the-the-best-business-model-in-the-world/272695/ (last visit February 1, 2013).] One thing that seems certain regardless of the outcome is that this proceeding will be one of the largest and most expensive in the history of sports with dozens of law firms and over $20 million in legal fees already invested before the trial has begun.[15. Id.] I, along with many prominent coaches and conference commissioners, believe that the question has turned from if athletes should be paid, to when they will be paid.