A Trail of Tears: The Exploitation of the College Athlete

Florida Coastal Law Review, Vol. 11, p. 639, 2010

MSU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09/10

28 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2011 Last revised: 23 Apr 2011

See all articles by Robert A. McCormick

Robert A. McCormick

Michigan State University College of Law

Amy C. McCormick

Michigan State University College of Law

Date Written: April 18, 2011

Abstract

This article describes numerous ways in which major college athletes, particularly in the revenue-generating sports of football and men’s basketball, are exploited. In so doing, we trace the path of our scholarship in the areas of professional and NCAA sports. To begin with, we point out that draft eligibility rules in the NFL and NBA prohibit the employment of otherwise qualified young men, thereby forcing these athletes to attend NCAA universities to compete without adequate compensation.

As regards the vast majority of these young men who opt to play NCAA sports, we point out that the NCAA created the “student-athlete” concept as a direct reaction against a state court’s proper interpretation that they are, in fact, employees within the meaning of state workers’ compensation laws. We argue they should be viewed as employees. By contrast, the current regime, under which athletes are not treated as “employees,” results in their commercial exploitation. The legal analysis of whether athletes should be considered university employees also reveals the stark lack of academic value most athletes obtain in exchange for their commercially valuable work. Thus, the very factors that demonstrate that college athletes ought to be considered “employees” also illustrate their exploitation.

Next, we explore ways in which college athletics has become a highly commercial, highly lucrative enterprise despite NCAA protestations that it remains amateur. College sports should, therefore, be subject to the same legal regimes that apply to other commercial entities. They should, for example, be subject to labor and antitrust laws, and they should have to pay income taxes on their net revenues as do other profit-making enterprises. The notion that college sports are amateur is a fiction.

Finally, this article reveals that NCAA amateurism rules, which apply only to athletes, not to coaches, athletic directors, university presidents, NCAA administrators, or conference officials, have a starkly disparate impact upon African Americans. College football and men’s basketball players at major universities are disproportionately of African-American descent, while those who benefit financially from the lucrative enterprise of college sports are overwhelmingly of European-American descent. Because of these racial demographics, NCAA amateurism rules effectively capture wealth created in substantial part by predominantly African-American young men and reserve it for the benefit of predominantly European-American university officials. Thus, the exploitation of the college athlete has important racial implications as well.

Keywords: Student-athlete, Employee, NLRA, NCAA, Sports, Draft eligibility, NBA, NFL, Commercialism, Amateurism, Labor Law, Antitrust, Income Tax, UBIT, Disparate impact, African American, Race

Suggested Citation

McCormick, Robert A. and McCormick, Amy Christian, A Trail of Tears: The Exploitation of the College Athlete (April 18, 2011). Florida Coastal Law Review, Vol. 11, p. 639, 2010, MSU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09/10, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1814253

Robert A. McCormick

Michigan State University College of Law ( email )

318 Law College Building
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
United States

Amy Christian McCormick (Contact Author)

Michigan State University College of Law ( email )

318 Law College Building
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
United States

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