Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Reading About Pay for Play

In our composition courses, we're supposed to provide a theme (at least to start the course).  We're encouraged to do something hip and cool, but since my hip and coolness is stuck somewhere around 1590, I hate having to come up with a theme.  I don't much care about the latest TV shows or pop stars or internet cat thing.  And the things I care about: Shakespeare, biking, birds, and such, are stuff I don't want to have to sell to 18 year olds.

So this semester, I just looked around and chose, and I chose the question of paying college athletes for playing, that is, paying real money beyond the athletic scholarships.  The question always seems to come up about football and (men's) basketball, two sports with big money on the line for those athletes who can turn professional.

Now before I started, I would have thought the main issues would be about basic finances, since most division I schools don't actually make money on athletics at all, so they don't have lots extra to pass along to players (they do seem to have plenty for coaches and athletic directors, though).  Or I would have thought the question would be about fairness: if they're paying football players, do they have to pay all scholarship athletes, including women?

Anyway, I looked and found several articles, a couple on legalistic stuff, one aimed at explaining to high school students, and so forth.

And it turns out, I really had no clue what the issues are.

Yes, the fairness is an issue, a legal one, because Title IX requires equal opportunities.

But even more, the issues seem to be related to whether the school and athlete have an employer/employee relationship, or whether the relationship is school/student.  Evidently, if there's an employer/employee relationship, then there are lots of responsibilities that employers have that schools don't.  That should have been obvious to me, but it sure wasn't.

So, employers have to deal with workers' compensation; if a worker is injured working, workers' comp comes in and the employee gets money to help medical and living costs (assuming it all works out).  But if a college athlete gets hurt, say ruins a knee and can never play that sport again, there's no workers' compensation, and it sounds like that school can drop the scholarship, leaving the student high and dry (at least potentially).

And employers have to deal with liability.  If an employee causes another person injury in the performance of employment stuff, the employer can be held liable.  So, for example, if I hand a student a piece of paper that gives them a horrible paper cut, my employer might be held liable for their stitches' cost and such.  Imagine that one on a football field.

And finally, if student athletes got paid as employees, then schools that do make money on athletics would lost tax exempt status and have to pay taxes, and you know they wouldn't want to do that.

According to the articles we've read for class, the courts have pretty much considered student athletes not employees, and so haven't held colleges responsible for workers' comp, liability, and so forth. 

It seems like when they talk about what makes someone an employee, though, student athletes on scholarship should be employees.  But then the courts say no, that would be too onerous for schools.

And I can't help but wonder, what about the athlete?  The cases we've read about usually involve an athlete getting a serious injury, losing all professional potential, and needing extraordinary medical and rehabilitation care.  What about the athlete?

It seems like the courts are all on the side of the folks who can really afford major legal teams, and that's the colleges and NCAA.

Do schools carry or provide or require student athletes to carry heavy duty disability insurance?  Do they typically carry or provide or require students to have insurance that will cover their tuition if they get injured and can't ever play, so that they can continue their education?  (These are real questions.  Does anyone know?)

The more I've read, the more I think student athletes on athletic scholarships, scholarships which require the student to play their sport to get the money, should count as employees.  And if that means that schools decide they can't do athletic scholarships, then they can put the funds into other sorts of scholarships.  And if that means that schools decide they can't afford NCAA sports, then football and basketball will figure out minor league systems or whatever, and schools will focus on education, and that will be fine.

Even just this little bit of reading has convinced me that the issue is way more complicated than gets across in newspapers and such.  What's cool is that my students, after reading the more complicated issues in the academic journals, recognized that the simplified article for high school students really is inadequate and doesn't get to the really important stuff.  That's very cool!


  1. Richard Miller has written about insurance issues as they pertain to Eric LeGrand (Rutgers football player who suffered paralysis from the chest down) and Kevin Ware (Louisville basketball player with the awful leg injury) here: http://text2cloud.com/2013/06/goodbye-to-all-that-some-final-reflections-on-ru-as-case-study/

  2. Thanks, Susan! From that article, it looks like there's basic medical, but not additional until the NCAA stuff kicks in, and even then, it's less than the amounts needed for care and rehabilitation for someone seriously injured. Did Eric LeGrand get to retain his scholarship?

  3. I'm not sure about his scholarship..most of what I know about LeGrand comes from Miller's essay and FB feed. I know that LeGrand did graduate from Rutgers in 2014.

  4. Are you looking at the recent Oakland cheerleaders ruling and discussing what it means to "work" vs doing something for love?

    Might be some fun interesting gender assumptions behind their responses, for sure...