The embattled system that keeps college football and basketball athletes uncompensated as “amateurs” while schools and coaches rake in millions of dollars is facing yet another legal challenge, this time that it violates the civil rights of Black players who make up much of college athletics’ labor force.
The National College Players’ Association, a nonprofit group that advocates for player rights, safety and compensation, filed a formal complaint to the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office, alleging that NCAA policy that bans schools from directly paying college athletes for their labor disproportionately hurts Black players, according to the Associated Press.
The reasoning goes like this: The NCAA prohibits compensation beyond room, board and per diems for food during road trips for all athletes in all sports. But in major athletic programs, especially those in the so-called Power Five athletic conferences, men’s basketball and football bring in the majority of the hundreds of millions of dollars in sports revenues the schools take in. And while Black students make up a small fraction of all those matriculating at NCAA powerhouse schools, Black athletes make up the majority of the uncompensated players on the football and basketball teams.
From the AP
Citing a 2018 study by the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center, the complaint said “Black men were 2.4% of undergraduate students enrolled at the 65 (Power Five conference) universities, but comprised 55% of football teams and 56% of men’s basketball teams on those campuses.”
The NCAA men’s Division I men’s basketball tournament generates more than $800 million in revenue for the association, most of which is distributed to 358 schools that compete at that level.
The College Football Playoff, which operates outside the NCAA, is worth more than $470 million annually to the 10 conferences that run it, with the majority of that money going to the Power Five — the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences.
The NCPA claims that relative to the revenue generated by their sports, Division I football players and men’s and women’s basketball players have been denied tens of thousands of dollars in compensation annually.
The NCAA’s system of ‘amateur’ labor to fuel a multi-billion-dollar industry has been besieged on multiple fronts in recent years. Faced with multiple state legislatures poised to approve so-called name, image and likeness, or NIL, legislation, the NCAA last year began allowing student athletes to ink endorsement deals, stopping short of allowing them to be paid directly by their colleges.
That development was preceded by a federal court ruling in 2014, known widely as the O’Bannon decision, that said the NCAA’s rules banning NIL deals were subject to antitrust laws.