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A Historic Ruling: NCAA Ordered To Pay Student Athletes

Above photo: AmadorValleyToday

A historic working-class victory was achieved on May 23, when the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) bosses agreed to settle three federal antitrust cases that were filed by three student athletes. The agreement will allow schools to directly pay student players for the first time in history.

In what is known as the “amateurism model,” college athletes have traditionally been excluded from receiving any compensation for their athletic talent, name recognition and labor. The recent settlement is expected to change that super-exploitative practice.

The NCAA Board of Governors, as well as the parasitic leaders of its five “power conferences” — the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big Ten, Big 12, Southeastern Conference (SEC) and Pac-12 — agreed to pay more than $2.8 billion in back pay and damages over the next 10 years to both past and current athletes. The NCAA, along with the power conferences, will be responsible for 40% of the settlement, and the rest of the costs will fall on the member universities. (CBS, May 24).

The first antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA was filed by former Arizona State swimmer Grant House in 2020. Known as House vs. NCAA, the lawsuit challenged the one-sided NCAA rules regarding the NIL (name, image and likeness) of student athletes. University of Illinois football player Tymir Oliver and former University of Oregon basketball player Sedona Prince filed their own cases against the NCAA.

The settlement terms still must be approved by Judge Claudia Wilken of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, who is presiding over all three cases. The process is expected to take months, and student athletes may not start receiving revenue for another year or two. Once approved, all Division I athletes from as far back as 2016 may be eligible for back pay. The settlement will also establish a precedent for how student athletes are properly paid moving forward.

Victory is part of an ongoing struggle

The fight against the NCAA’s hyperexploitation started close to a decade ago, in the context of social movements such as Black Lives Matter, #Me Too, Fight for $15 and Occupy Wall Street. These youth-led movements developed in response to the capitalist crisis and economic crash of 2008. They challenged systemic racism, national oppression, sexism, anti-LGBTQIA2S+ bigotry and class exploitation. This inspired young workers — including student athletes — to collectively fight for better conditions. Over 50% of NCAA football and basketball players are African American.

In 2014, Northwestern University football players attempted to unionize. While unsuccessful, the unionization campaign opened the door for student athletes to fight back against the brutal exploitation to which they are subjected.

The university also has a reputation for racist discrimination and disparaging treatment of Black football players. In November 2023, former Northwestern football players Noah Herron and Rico Lamitte spoke out regarding mistreatment they experienced in the early 2000s. A lawsuit against Northwestern — one of a dozen alleging racist discrimination and/or sexual abuse — potentially affects over 50 Black former student-athletes.

The NCAA finally waived its “amateurism” practice of not paying student-athletes, in 2021. For the first time in its 115-year history, student-athletes were able to earn money off their popularity and visibility — but still were paid nothing by the universities they worked for.

NCAA bosses caved and conceded to the 2021 waiver out of fear that several state legislatures were going to pass laws that would have forced payments to student-athletes at colleges and universities across the U.S. State legislators were responding to the growing unionization campaigns that started with Northwestern football players. Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of student-athletes getting paid, just one day after the NCAA’s waiver.

Despite claiming to be a part of a “nonprofit,” NCAA bosses are driven by profit and greed. As Workers World managing editor Monica Moorehead wrote in 2021, “The NCAA — like every other capitalist entity — is based on making profit. The NCAA receives over $1 billion in revenue annually from two main sources: The first is the Division I men’s basketball annual championship tournament known as ‘March Madness,’ which generates over $867 million in television and marketing.  The second is from other championship sales that reap close to $180 million — not even counting football bowl games.” (workers.org/2021/07/57412/).

Assuming House v. NCAA prevails, winning back pay and the establishment of compensation to student athletes for their name, image and likeness — as well as their labor power as workers — is a major victory for all working-class and oppressed people. The bourgeoisie and their exploitative institutions, such as the NCAA and college universities, go out of their way to divide the proletariat. People who have historically been told they are “not a part of the working class” are starting to see themselves as workers — and they are fighting back.

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