Foul! the Exploitation of the Student-Athlete: Student-Athletes Deserve Compensation for Their Play in the College Athletic Arena

By Haden, Christopher W. | Journal of Law and Education, October 2001 | Go to article overview

Foul! the Exploitation of the Student-Athlete: Student-Athletes Deserve Compensation for Their Play in the College Athletic Arena


Haden, Christopher W., Journal of Law and Education


Chalk Talk--

I. Introduction

In 1998 the National Collegiate Athletic Association ("NCAA") signed a contract with CBS, giving the network exclusive television rights to the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championships for which the NCAA and its members will receive $1.7 billion.1 The member institutions of the NCAA are the various colleges and universities that operate athletic teams comprised of student-athletes. Coupled with the lucrative CBS contract, NCAA member institutions constantly enter into contracts with shoe, apparel and sports drink companies, along with various other corporate entities that pay large amounts in order to advertise within the sporting fields and arenas on college campuses.2 What's more, coaches of athletic teams, in addition to their six-figure salaries, sign personal contracts with these same companies in exchange for promising to outfit their players in the shoes and sportswear manufactured by these companies.3 When these financial figures are supplemented with regular and post season ticket sales, concession sales, local television and radio contracts, and increased endowments, colleges and universities profit handsomely from their participation in inter-collegiate athletics. In stark contrast to the lucrative salaries and financial benefits bestowed upon these colleges and universities and their coaches, however, the student-athletes who make this financial windfall possible receive absolutely no monetary compensation whatsoever.

Proponents of compensating student-athletes for their participation in these revenue-generating sports have been named "pay-for-play" advocates.4 Payfor-play advocates have for years argued that student-athletes are exploited by the universities for which they play in order to create a financial windfall for the universities. Opponents of the pay-for-play position point out that studentathletes often are provided athletic scholarships that pay for tuition, room and board and school supplies.5 However, despite the financial compensation universities provide to student-athletes in the form of athletic scholarships, student-athletes often do not have enough money to pay for other living expenses that are part of daily life as a college student. Specifically, NCAA regulations and the time demands of major collegiate athletic competition prevent student-- athletes from maintaining employment during the course of the academic year.6 As a result, financially destitute student-athletes who find themselves in emergency situations such as an auto accident or a death in the family often are unable properly to address the need or, in the alternative, are forced to violate NCAA rules in order to raise the money necessary to address the emergency.7 As a result of an NCAA rules violation, student-athletes often find themselves cast aside by both their university as well as the NCAA, which hides behind the "protection of amateur status" argument.

II. Students as Employees of the University

In order for student-athletes to receive additional compensation for their participation in inter-collegiate athletics, they must be recognized as employees of the university. Courts have, for the most part, addressed this question in the context of whether student-athletes are entitled to workers' compensation benefits resulting from injuries sustained during the course of play.

In general, courts have denied student-athletes workers' compensation benefits because of student-athletes' tax exempt status under state workers' compensation statutes.8 However, in the case of University of Denver v. Nemeth,9 the Supreme Court of Colorado held that a University of Denver football player who was injured during practice was an employee of the University, and therefore entitled to protection under workers' compensation statutes. The court's decision was based not on Nemeth's status as a player on the University's football team, but rather on Nemeth's job as a maintenance employee at the campus tennis center, which happened to be contingent on his playing football for the University. …

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