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UNDERSTAND THE RULES OF THE GAME

What the National Labor Relations Board opinion means for college football players

Published 28 April 2017 | Authored by: John Wolohan

 On 3 April 2017, the University of North Carolina defeated Gonzaga University for the 2017 men’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball championship. The game culminated what is a three-week long event featuring the 68 “best[1] college teams in the USA known as “March Madness”. 

The NCAA tournament is called “March Madness” because for the entire month of March, college basketball dominates the sports market place in the United States with games televised non-stop from Thursday to Sunday. In order to win the NCAA championship, which was played in front of a crowd of over 77,000 and seen on television by over 23 million viewers,[2] the players involved will have had to travel around the country playing in a series of mini-tournaments where the winner moves on to the next round and the loser goes home.

With so any people watching the tournament, it is easy to see why television networks CBS and TBS are willing to pay the NCAA close to a billion dollars a year for the television rights to the basketball tournament.[3] With so much money flowing into the coffers of the NCAA and universities, however, it is not surprising that this is also the time of year when many people wonder why the athletes do not get paid a share of all the revenue. 

This article examines the issue, which largely revolves around the question of whether student athletes can be considered “employees” (and their respective Universities “employers”), in light of a recent opinion letter issued by the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board. Specifically, it looks at:

  • Background to the debate, and the two sides of the argument over whether college athletes should receive great remuneration;

  • The legal challenges to date;

  • The recent opinion issued by the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board; and

  • The future of the issue 

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About the Author

John Wolohan

John Wolohan

John is an Attorney and Professor of Sports Law in the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics at Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York. In addition to being one of the lead editors of the book "Law for Recreation and Sport Managers" by Cotten and Wolohan, John also writes the "Sports Law Report" a blog and monthly article that appears in Athletic Business. John's areas of interest include intellectual property, doping in sport, and antitrust issues.

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