Frequently Asked Questions
DON’T MOST COLLEGE ATHLETES RECEIVE SCHOLARSHIPS? ISN’T THAT COMPENSATION ENOUGH?
A scholarship is a tremendous benefit to any student whether they participate in intercollegiate sports or not, but it’s usually limited. Only three-in-five Division I and II athletes receive scholarships and those are mostly partial scholarships. Although working non-sports-related part-time jobs is an option, athletes have fewer opportunities due to the extra demands on their time.
As a result, college athletes often struggle to meet their most basic needs. According to one survey, nearly 14 percent of Division I athletes were homeless at least once during the previous year. And 24 percent experienced food insecurity during the previous 30 days.
Receiving an athletic scholarship is no excuse for denying student athletes the ability to earn a paycheck based on their talent and participation in college athletics. Compensating college athletes or establishing long-term business relationships that will benefit them once their college days are over is about FAIRNESS.
The NCAA is an organization whose members propose, establish, and implement the rules and policies of college sports—“everything from recruiting and compliance to academics and championships.” Its members include 1,098 colleges and universities and 102 athletic conferences.
According to the NCAA, “Nearly half a million college athletes make up the 19,886 teams that send more than 57,661 participants to compete each year in the NCAA’s 90 championships in 24 sports across 3 divisions.”
According to the NCAA, “fewer than 2 percent of NCAA student-athletes go on to be professional athletes.” Only 1.2% of athletes playing men’s basketball and 1.6 percent of athletes playing men’s football become professional athletes. Only .8 percent of athletes playing women’s basketball turn professional.
Under NCAA bylaws, student athletes may be paid for work performed at a rate “commensurate with the going rate in that locality for similar services.” However, student athletes may not receive compensation “for value or utility that the student-athlete may have for the employer because of the publicity, reputation, fame, or personal following obtained because of athletics ability.”
Under these guidelines, a student athlete cannot participate in intercollegiate athletics if they are paid for:
- the use of the student’s “name or picture to advertise, recommend or promote directly the sale or use of a commercial product or service of any kind”; or
- “endorsing a commercial product or service through the student athlete’s use of such product or service.”
This means college athletes cannot be paid for signing autographs, appearing at events, allowing their image to be used in a video game, appearing in a commercial, or selling ads on their YouTube channels.
Yes, but the student athlete cannot be paid “for value or utility that the student-athlete may have for the employer because of the publicity, reputation, fame or personal following obtained because of athletics ability.”
No, changing the rules will give student athletes the same opportunity other students have—the chance to earn pay for their talents.
In general, under NCAA rules designed to preserve amateurism, student athletes are prohibited from receiving pay related to their athletic talent. But other students are not treated this way. A student on a music scholarship is still allowed to earn money from gigs or a YouTube channel, so why can’t a student athlete get paid to sponsor a product while remaining active in an amateur college league?
In practice, the NCAA amateurism rules are already enforced inconsistently, resulting in barriers for most student athletes and special treatment for a few. As USA Today columnist Dan Wolken wrote in 2019, “amateurism is a word with no inherent meaning other than whatever the NCAA proclaims it to be.” For example:
- In 2018, Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray signed a $4.7 million contract with the Oakland Athletics but remained eligible to continue playing college football at Oklahoma. NCAA bylaws state: A professional athlete in one sport may represent a member institution in a different sport and may receive institutional financial assistance in the second sport.
- Universities can pay for “lose-of-value” insurance for their most valued athletes to protect them from the loss of future earnings due to an injury.
Allowing economic opportunities for all college athletes will not destroy what’s good about college sports. Athletes who play college sports will remain motivated by the love of the sport, the ability to receive an education, the college culture and experience, the excitement of building a life-long relationship with a university and its community, and the lifetime of benefits these experiences provide regardless of one’s career path.
The NCAA has failed to adequately address the issue of student athlete compensation. As a result, several states have enacted laws that allow their states’ student athletes to be compensated for the use of their names, images, and likenesses. California was the first to enact a law called “Fair Pay for Fair Play” in 2019. Since that time, several other states have enacted or are considering similar laws.
Fearing state action would create a chaotic patchwork of laws and regulations governing student athlete compensation, the NCAA asked Congress to intervene. At a December 17, 2019, congressional hearing, NCAA President Mark Emmert told senators, “We need your help right now. I think the debate or the discussion is well past the ability of a group of states to resolve it.” Emmert said:
“In terms of addressing these issues and creating legally valid modeling, which the schools can provide more than they do now, whatever that may look like, has to be created at a national level and doing it state by state, with again potentially 50 different models doesn’t make any sense.”
The U.S. Congress is also responsible for writing our nation’s anti-trust laws, which apply to the NCAA. Several lawsuits have alleged NCAA violations of anti-trust laws, including a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court (NCAA vs. Alston) related to whether NCAA rules limiting education-related compensation violate federal antitrust laws. Rather than relying on a Supreme Court case alone, Congress should provide clear and consistent legislation that reforms anti-trust law to address the issues in college sports.
Reforms to compensation rules can and should be developed to keep smaller programs competitive while providing recruitment rules and processes that are fair, transparent, and enforceable to protect the interests of HBCUs and less advantaged schools.