Workers' Compensation and Collegiate Athletes: The Debate over the Pay for Play Model: A Counterpoint

By Mondello, Michael J.; Beckham, Joseph | Journal of Law and Education, July 2002 | Go to article overview
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Workers' Compensation and Collegiate Athletes: The Debate over the Pay for Play Model: A Counterpoint

Mondello, Michael J., Beckham, Joseph, Journal of Law and Education

In the October 2001 issue of the JOURNAL OF LAW & EDUCATION, Christopher Haden resurrects the notion that student-athletes are exploited under policies established by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).' He contends that student-athletes warrant additional compensation above and beyond the financial inducements of an athletic scholarship and the advantages of a college education. While acknowledging that additional compensation for collegiate athletes may implicate a range of legal issues, including federal antitrust law and Title IX compliance, Haden proposes an option, which Hurst and Pressley previously detailed, whereby collegiate athletes would be entitled to a monthly stipend characterized as part of their scholarships, or "laundry money."2

Collegiate Athletics' Inequities

Haden's argument for additional compensation is predicated on a perception shared by millions of Americans. Any television viewer who has watched a college football game or the NCAA-sanctioned post-season basketball tournament knows college athletics is a corporate enterprise involving millions of dollars in revenues. Like so many critics of the current system, Haden cites the revenues big-time athletic programs generate, the generous salaries paid to head coaches in the principal revenue-generating sports, and the narrow view that athletes do not receive a share of the profits from the enterprise.3 Stipends for athletes have been limited to tuition and fees, room and board, and books. As the governing body of intercollegiate sports, the NCAA opposes compensation for collegiate athletes in an effort to preserve the status of amateur athletics in IMAGE FORMULA4letics in colleges and universities. In the NCAA's view, compensation may alter the accepted view that collegiate athletes are students rather than employees of higher education institutions. Critics argue that amateurism is a fiction intended to veil the status of college athletes as employees and deny players the right to participate in profits generated from the intercollegiate athletics market.

The argument for profit-sharing through wage compensation is often referred to as "pay-for-play." Pay-for-play is predicated on the assumption that colleges and universities enjoy huge revenues from marketing their collegiate sports program and that the extraordinary profits resulting from these revenues are not shared with players who perform in the arena. As one illustration of this inequity, pay-for-play advocates insist that student athletes who contribute to an institution's success on the playing field are insufficiently protected if they sustain a debilitating or career-ending injury while playing their sport.'

To remedy the perceived inequity, some critics advocate recognizing collegiate athletes as employees of their institutions in order to make workers' compensation available to them.' Workers' compensation would allow an injured collegiate athlete to seek an award that would extend beyond his collegiate career. However, institutions and the NCAA fear that recognizing collegiate athletes as employees for workers' compensation purposes will reshape the mission of higher education institutions. Granting workers' compensation could also lead to other student-athlete/employee demands for salaries, benefits, and collective bargaining.

Advocates for a pay-for-play policy have been largely unsuccessful in convincing state legislatures to reform workers' compensation laws to include collegiate athletes.6 Haden references selected court decisions appearing to reflect judicial support for the status of collegiate athletes as employees.' However, courts have generally denied workers' compensation benefits on the basis of the institutions' successful arguments that their primary goal is to educate collegiate athletes and a corresponding recognition that significant public policy changes would result if workers' compensation laws were liberally interpreted to apply to these athletes.

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Workers' Compensation and Collegiate Athletes: The Debate over the Pay for Play Model: A Counterpoint


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