Updated: Apr 21, 2021
The NCAA is gearing up to celebrate one of the biggest weekends of the year, but a threat looms above. As teams travel to Indianapolis and San Antonio for the men's and women's Final Four, the U.S Supreme Court prepares to hear a case that could drastically change the future of college sports. Legal experts are examining the limits the NCAA places on compensation for student-athletes.
For decades, the NCAA has maintained that it is an amateur organization and its student-athletes are not professional. Therefore, they are not eligible to receive payment from the school or outside sponsors. Meanwhile, the NCAA continues to hammer out billion-dollar television deals that result in college coaches being paid millions upon millions of dollars in salaries and endorsements.
"There's no question that the commercialization of big-time college basketball and football has morphed into a very lucrative business and are taking advantage of students to generate that income," attorney Gary Roberts told NPR.
The NCAA argues that a meal plan, housing and scholarship is enough compensation for student-athletes. However, athletes are routinely asked to miss classes in order to attend practice and games. During March Madness, basketball players are asked to keep up with their classes while being away from campus for upwards of half of the month. Also, compensation restrictions often discriminate against Black athletes. Tennis players are allowed to accept up to $10,000 in prize money per year before enrolling in college. Olympic Swimmer Katie Ledecky was able to earn nearly $400,000 through her athletic work before competing at Stanford University, In sports that are predominantly made up of Black athletes like football and basketball, the NCAA does not allow participants to receive payment prior to or during their college years.
In an effort to properly compensate student-athletes, individual states are implementing laws that would allow athletes to receive compensation while in college. In July, the state of Florida will allow collegiate athletes to make money from endorsements. Laws such as these will put the NCAA in a difficult spot.
"They're juggling fiery knives," Tulane University's Gabe Feldman said.
"They're trying to thread a needle between the Supreme Court, Congress, the states, pressure from the public and athletes who are potentially threatening to sit out games unless they get better treatment."