It’s Time For NCAA Reform - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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It’s Time For NCAA Reform

It’s Time For NCAA Reform

In the wake of the March Madness Tournament, the future of the NCAA is in flux. Throughout the tournament, players had been voicing their protest over the NCAA’s rules using the #NotNCAAProperty.1 These college athletes have banded together to voice their disapproval of the NCAA’s rules restricting compensation.2 While playing for the NCAA, college athletes sign over the rights to their name, image and likeness.3 As of March 2021, these athletes may not benefit financially beyond their academic scholarships.4

The NCAA has long argued that these students should remain amateurs in order to stick to tradition.5 The Administration believes that allowing college athletes to be paid would put unfair pressure on them in choosing where to attend school.6 For example, college athletes would choose a school based entirely on compensation as opposed to considering other benefits such as education, location and resources. This argument fails to consider that many students choose colleges based on their financial means, and putting student athletes among them would not be contrary to public policy.

While the NCAA profits off of these students, bringing in about $1 billion a year, the student athletes make nothing.7 Not to mention that the majority of that revenue comes directly from the NCAA’s March Madness Tournament.8 This is not the first time that athletes have spoken out against this treatment, but it is the first time that these players seem to have widespread bipartisan support.9 This support has culminated in the Supreme Court’s granting certiorari in NCAA v. Alston.10

In NCAA v. Alston, the Court is considering petitions from the NCAA, as well as several other college athletics conferences, asking the court to reconsider the decision in the Ninth Circuit that expanded pay for college athletes beyond expenses tied to education.11 On the antitrust issue, the NCAA argues that its member colleges are “beyond the scope of federal antitrust laws based on the unique structure of commercial sports leagues.”12 However, the court rejected this argument when brought by professional sports leagues in American Needle v. National Football League.13 The athletes in this case believe that the no-pay rules should be dictated by the specific conferences as no specific conference controls the market.14

While Chief Justice Roberts fears that this ruling would threaten the entire collegiate athletics system, it appears as though there is strong favor for the athletes.15 As Justice Thomas stated: “It just strikes me as odd that the coaches’ salaries have ballooned and they are in the amateur ranks, as are the players.”16 It appears as though everyone is profiting off of the work of these student athletes, except for the athletes themselves. While it is too soon to tell, it appears as though the hard work of these athletes may be about to pay off.

As the issues over pay for play work their way through the Supreme Court, certain states have taken matters into their own hands. In 2019, California Governor Gary Newsom signed the Fair Pay to Play act into law in California.17 This law allows student athletes to benefit beyond their educational payments without repercussions from the NCAA.18 Starting in 2023, student athletes in California will be able to use their name, image, and likeness to enter into endorsement deals and licensing contracts.19 It’s expected that this California legislation will create a domino effect among states who want to compete with California for talented student athletes.20 While it’s unclear whether change will come from the Supreme Court or the state legislature, it is clear that change is definitely coming.


  1. Cindy Boren, Prominent NCAA tournament players launch ‘#NotNCAAProperty’ protest as March Madness begins, The Wash. Post (Mar. 18, 2021), https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2021/03/18/not-ncaa-property/ [https://perma.cc/WM9D-GHCQ].

  2. Id.

  3. Id.

  4. See id.

  5. The Journal: A Tipping Point for Paying College Athletes, The Wall St. J. & Gimlet Media (Mar. 26, 2021), available at https://www.wsj.com/podcasts/the-journal/a-tipping-point-for-paying-college-athletes/87e762af-7a47-4518-9245-64b02651c521 (last visited Apr. 11, 2021).

  6. Id.

  7. Steve Cameron, The NCAA brings in $1 billion a year – here’s why it refuses to pay its college athletes, Bus. Insider (Mar. 26, 2019), https://www.businessinsider.com/ncaa-college-athletes-march-madness-basketball-football-sports-not-paid-2019-3 [https://perma.cc/AE7N-Z7FL].

  8. Id.

  9. The Journal, supra note 5.

  10. National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Alston, Scotus Blog, (last visited Apr. 6, 2021), https://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/national-collegiate-athletic-association-v-alston/ [https://perma.cc/C658-P28Z].

  11. Zachary Zagger, Justices Skeptical NCAA Amateurism Deserves A Pass, Law360 (Mar. 31, 2021), https://www-law360-com.fls.idm.oclc.org/articles/1369528/justices-skeptical-ncaa-amateurism-deserves-a-pass [https://perma.cc/JR33-VVBY].

  12. Marc Edelman, 7 Reasons The NCAA Is Likely To Lose Its Supreme Court Case, Forbes (Apr. 5, 2021), https://www.forbes.com/sites/marcedelman/2021/04/05/seven-reasons-why-the-ncaa-is-likely-to-lose-its-supreme-court-case/?sh=51a06aac6ac3 [https://perma.cc/KK5L-MMKW].

  13. Id.

  14. Zagger, supra note 11.

  15. Id.

  16. Id.

  17. Michael Long, Fair Pay to Play: Is the NCAA learning an expensive lesson?, SportsPro (Oct. 18, 2019), https://www.sportspromedia.com/analysis/ncaa-fair-pay-to-play-act-california-college-sports-larry-scott-newsom#:~:text=Last%20month%2C%20lawmakers%20in%20California,likeness%20for%20the%20first%20time [https://perma.cc/PCL9-9U8E].

  18. Id.

  19. Id.

  20. The Journal, supra note 5.

Amanda Benincasa

Amanda Benincasa is a second-year J.D. candidate at Fordham University School of Law and a staff member of the Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal. She holds a B.S. in Film and Television from Boston University.