NCAA regulation is highly restrictive of the compensation of amateur athletes. Recent class actions have challenged the equity of such policies in light of the high levels of revenue generated by the organization and schools. Challenges to NCAA regulation may provide student-athletes greater ability to negotiate their compensation and to make money independently.
NCAA Prohibition on Compensation for Student-Athletes
Article 12 of the NCAA Division I Manual states: “An individual loses amateur status and thus shall not be eligible for intercollegiate competition in a particular sport if the individual
(a) uses his or her athletics skill (directly or indirectly) for pay in any form in that sport; or
(b) accepts a promise of pay even if such pay is to be received following completion of intercollegiate athletics participation.”
NCAA Policy Challenged as Unjust to College Athletes
The NCAA argues that college athletes are being compensated in the form of scholarships to their schools. However, many find the practices of the NCAA incredibly unjust. The NCAA generated nearly $1 billion in revenue during 2014 alone. The organization’s income comes from television and marketing rights, championship tournaments, sales, services, and other sources of income. The players are at the heart of every dollar generated. Ed O’Bannon, a former championship UCLA basketball player, is currently involved in a class action anti-trust lawsuit against the NCAA, alleging that the NCAA has been wrongfully profiting off of the names, images, and likenesses of student-athletes. Two former Wisconsin Badger Basketball players recently filed a similar lawsuit.
Zach Bohannon, a University of Wisconsin basketball player, believed that college athletes should not be paid prior to studying the matter for a debate class he was in. However, after conducting research on the matter, he realized that by limiting compensation to scholarships, colleges were colluding to keep expenses artificially low. He discovered that revenue generated was incredibly disproportionate to operational costs and to the value of scholarships offered, which allowed coaches, athletic departments, and NCAA directors to earn high salaries at the expense of unpaid athletes. Additionally, colleges receive large sums of money from athletic companies such as Nike and Adidas, and players are required to only use the equipment of their school’s sponsoring company as a result. Zach convinced fellow former Badger basketball player Nigel Hayes to join a more recent class suit led by anti-trust lawyer, Jeffrey Kessler, who had previously helped institute free agency in the NFL. The lawsuit seeks to position college athletes similarly to professional free agents, and enable them to negotiate the value of their scholarships based on their abilities.
NCAA Restrictions Impact Players Before They Reach College
Universities across the country, as well as the NCAA, profit tremendously from talented players, all while precluding such players from taking any initiative to be able to profit from their likeness and hard-earned talent. The limitations that the NCAA places on an athlete’s earning potential is not even limited to current NCAA players. LaMelo Ball, was a junior at Chino Hills High School in California ranked as the seventh best high school basketball player in the nation for the graduating class of 2019. However, LaMelo has received criticism and faced a potential loss of eligibility to play for UCLA for marketing his own shoe.
Like all basketball players, he is precluded from immediately entering the NBA after he graduates by Article X of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, which mandates that all players must be at least 19 years and that one NBA season must elapse since the player graduated high school or should have graduated. The rule was implanted to protect players from the difficult transition from playing as high school athletes to playing professionally, and to allow professional teams to better evaluate the potential of young players.
LaMelo is the first high school basketball player in history to develop and sell his own signature basketball shoe, the “MELLO BALL 1.” He has promoted his shoe, as well as his family’s athletic apparel company on social media as well as other forms of marketing. Article 12 of the NCAA Division I Manual could have precluded LaMelo’s eligibility to play college basketball if the NCAA found that he had been paid or has been promised compensation upon no longer playing for UCLA, even though he does not currently play for the NCAA. This was likely a factor when Lamelo, and his middle brother Liangelo decided to play professionally in Lithuania for a year rather than continuing their efforts to play in the NCAA as they pursue careers in the NBA.
In most contexts, a young athlete would receive praise for being one of the best in the nation at their craft, and for pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors in the manner that LaMelo has. He could potentially leverage his talent and likeness to generate money, while learning more about the business world and marketing first hand than most high schools could ever teach. Instead, Article X of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement and Article 12 of the NCAA Division I Manual could have potentially precluded him from doing so had he chose to continue his goal of playing basketball at UCLA. This could have been a disincentive for LaMelo to try to play for the university as he and his father decided to withdraw him from high school to play professionally overseas instead.
As a result of Article 12 of the NCAA Division I Manual, and by Article X of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, basketball players training to become professional are limited in their post-high school options. The limitation forces amateur players to effectively agree to either license their talent and likeness to the NCAA for an artificially low fixed rate relative to the income their talents generate, or to leave the country to play professionally in a foreign country after high school until they can play for the NBA. Recent developments in class action suits, as well as the attention that LaMelo Ball has brought to the restrictions that the NCAA places on athletes will likely lead to a great deal of transformation in NCAA policies in upcoming years. None of the arguments asserted by the NCAA justify allowing the organization and universities to generate millions of dollars with no limitations, all while artificially capping compensation of players and precluding players from finding ways to earn additional income from their own abilities.