College Athletes Take Their Fair Pay Fight To The NCAA

Written By Carter Breazeale on April 5, 2022
NCAA fair pay civil rights

The NCAA is an American institution, one with an illustrious and storied history.

And one in dire need of transformational change. The antiquated policies by which the NCAA operates are incongruent with the times, and frankly: insulting.

It’s high time the NCAA undergoes an internal reformation. And shreds the vestiges of the Good Ol’ Boys Club of its beginnings. The largest step in bringing the NCAA into the 21st Century will be to finally — finally — pay its athletes.

NIL deals and a year of NCAA legal turmoil

The approval of NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) deals was a solid start that virtually upended the collegiate sports world overnight. Players were now able to profit off of what universities have historically profited off of – themselves.

While a landmark win for college athletes, the National College Players Association is aiming even higher. Last week, the NCPA fired an opening salvo in the legal fight for paid college athletes in the form of a civil rights complaint against the NCAA. The NCPA is alleging that the NCAA is actively violating Black players’ civil rights by colluding to cap the compensation of its student-athletes.

The NCPA filed the complaint with the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. In the complaint, the NCPA is seeking to eliminate the caps on athlete compensation, stating that they have a “disparate impact” on Black athletes as a large percentage of college athletes are Black.

According to the NCPA’s complaint, these athletes are being denied tens of thousands of dollars every year in fair market compensation. For women’s basketball, the complaint states that players are missing out on $24,000 per year. Men’s basketball players and football players are being denied $164K and $184K, respectively.

It’s been a rough go for the NCAA since the unanimous NCAA vs. Alston Supreme Court decision that forced the governing body to swiftly adopt rules and guidelines for NIL deals. With the NCPA’s filing with the Department of Education, it’s another upward turn of the temperature knob in the rolling boil debate over college athlete compensation.

The other element at play, even if not immediate, is sports betting. Georgia legalized sports betting could be massive, if and when it ever happens, but how would it impact college athletics and athletes?

A Good Ol’ Boys Club and a changing social climate

We’ve heard the exhausting and curmudgeon arguments about how a free education in the form of an athletic scholarship is sufficient “payment” for student-athletes. It’s tired and worn out.

These athletes generate millions in revenue for Division I universities. They devote their time and bodies to their craft, and between athletic and education commitments to maintain that free education, are somehow expected to manufacture additional hours in the day to keep a steady source of liveable income.

Maybe that’s possible with one of those Harry Potter time-turner gadgets.

But those are just as fictional as the expectation of holding down a consistent job while juggling athletics and education. And performing well enough in both to not have your scholarship yanked away.

All the while these educational institutions are raking in Scrooge McDuckian amounts of cash on the backs of these athletes. The “a-scholarship-is-sufficient” argument has always been a stale one. And with societal and income disparities laid bare during the COVID-19 pandemic, a sun-sized spotlight was placed on college athletics governing bodies.

And, as it turns out, it’s tough to defend the NCAA’s stance on unpaid athletes in 2022. Many in the collegiate sports community have already conceded that major changes are on the horizon. Speaking with CBS SportsDennis Dodd earlier in the year, North Carolina AD Bubba Cunningham provided insight on his perceived future of college athletics:

“I do think we’re probably 2-3 years away from having a different relationship with our student-athletes. It won’t necessarily be the student and the university. It may be employee-employer.”

Cunningham, a 27-year veteran of college athletics, not-so-subtlely acknowledged the coming reality. Players will eventually be paid, and no public relations strategy or clinging to congressional coattails is going to stop it. It’s far past time, too.

An embarrassment of riches

A 2015 study found that Black college athletes missed out on a minimum of $17.3 billion between 2005 to 2019. In a broadcasting deal struck in 2017, the Big Ten gave Fox Sports exclusive rights to its athletic conference’s games for $2.64 billion over six years.

Given the enormity of those figures, it’s no shock that the NCPA filed a civil rights complaint against the NCAA. The exploitative nature of the NCAA’s arrangement with Black college athletes doesn’t square on paper. And it doesn’t compute with the conscience.

For decades, Black athletes have filled the rosters of NCAA Division I basketball and football teams. And throughout that time the association has been rolling in revenue. While the real moneymakers sacrifice their time and bodies for a scholarship to an institution that profits on their efforts and spits them out.

Rinse and repeat.

Winds of change in college sports and NCAA fair pay

After decades of doldrums, the tide is finally turning against the NCAA. The NCPA’s legal complaint is surely one of many to follow as players argue for their right to be paid what they’re worth. That fight has been many years in the making, and will not be without additional roadblocks moving forward on the path to progress.

But the pathway to progress is paved with fits of starts and stops. And from NIL licensing in 2021 to the NCPA’s filing with the US Department of Education last week, it’s clear that players aren’t backing down any time soon.

Nor should they, now that the wind seems to be at their back.

Photo by Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

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Carter Breazeale

Carter Breazeale is a freelance journalist with a focus on sports, business, and the business of sports. An Atlanta native currently residing in Orlando, Carter graduated from The University of Central Florida. Since 2018 he has covered the Atlanta Falcons for SBNation's site, The Falcoholic.

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