A New Deal? The Student-Athlete’s Quest to Get Paid
In the last decade, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has faced vociferous backlash from its student athletes, coaches, pundits and even legislators about its strict policies on amateurism. The outcry specifically bemoans the policy that student-athletes cannot legally receive compensation for participating in college sports. This policy is in place despite the fact that athletes generate billions of dollars in revenue for universities, broadcasting networks, and the video game and apparel industries.
About three weeks ago, the District Court in San Francisco issued a ruling that could potentially change the college sports landscape. The court allowed current and former NCAA athletes to proceed in their push for an injunction against the NCAA. The injunction would let athletes enter group-licensing deals for the use of their names, images and likenesses in game broadcasts and video games.
The trailblazing athletes involved in the suit allege that the NCAA forces its participants to give up their right to the commercial use of their images in perpetuity. This restriction is why player names do not adorn the college sports jerseys sold in stadiums and stores throughout the country and why video game makers like EA Sports cannot include real players in popular college sports themed video games.
Judge Claudia Wilken, stated that:
“(The injunction) is deemed necessary to eliminate the restraints that the NCAA has allegedly imposed…Without the requested injunctive relief, all class members — including both current and former student-athletes — would potentially be subject to ongoing antitrust harms resulting from the continued unauthorized use of their names, images, and likenesses. Because an injunction would offer all class members ‘uniform relief’ from this harm, class certification is appropriate.”
The injunction not only would allow student athletes to pursue financial remedies but also would create a huge change for the TV Networks who broadcast college sports. A trial is set for next June, and if the athletes win it will cause a seismic shift in how college sports licensing and broadcasting deals are negotiated. Giving athletes more bargaining power would potentially make the price of TV deals skyrocket.
A ruling in favor of the athletes would create multiple avenues for negotiation. “Television networks would have to negotiate not only with the NCAA but with student-athletes for broadcast rights, while the NCAA and student-athletes might strike separate licensing contracts with two different video game publishers.” Because TV Networks spend billions of dollars on broadcasting contracts with the NCAA (CBS currently pays $10.8 billion on their agreement to broadcast the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament), a change has monumental financial implications.
Right now is too early to tell how the case will play out. Some legal observers have opined that the early win for the student-athletes sets up a potential settlement discussion, allowing athletes to finally get paid and ending their amateur status. Other observers feel that the NCAA is ready to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary. Either way the case will surely serve as a milestone in college sports history.