Compensating Collegiate Athletes in 'Store Credit'

47 U. Memphis Law Review 431 (2016)

Arizona Summit Law School Paper Series No. 2016-A-04

53 Pages Posted: 29 Jun 2016 Last revised: 13 Dec 2017

See all articles by Michael N. Widener

Michael N. Widener

Bonnett, Fairbourn, Friedman & Balint; Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Date Written: June 28, 2016


This paper tackles fair remuneration to amateur athletes competing at and for America’s postsecondary schools. The easy (therefore popular) analysis of present conditions proceeds so: Since the NCAA makes hundreds of millions of dollars from athletics, as do its member institutions, partial university income redistribution to players harms these institutions little while affording these hard-working athletes fair compensation. Litigation in the federal courts, especially the district courts within the Ninth Circuit and those appellate courts parsing Sherman Act "Rule of Reason" mechanics, provides tentative solutions but no real resolution of this debate. This judicial “legislation” addressing opposing doctrines of amateurism and just financial rewards promises further chaos. Meanwhile, pundits weigh in on college athlete compensation while thinking through few of the myriad ramifications of creating a “free labor market” in elite male athletes’ services - one where postsecondary institutions bid for their services without compensation ceilings. Universities decry an open marketplace for such players as unsustainable, guarantying institutional bankruptcies. No position is completely genuine; and seldom is any position evidence-based.

I address numerous implications of paying college athletes in this paper, rescuing from potential college athlete "marketplace" confusion (and looming insolvency) a compensation system. My proposal fairly “pays” athletes who commit to their postsecondary institutions and maintains calm and predictability in athletics’ administrations that budget and fundraise to remunerate athletes. I acknowledge that athletes don't earn as much as they might earn outside the academy, in view of their personal sacrifices to the success of their sports programs. Yet I argue that college players are not firmly established as the singular force behind university successes, athletically or otherwise. Finally, I address the pervasive reach of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a bastion pundits believe can be ignored while universities and the NCAA open their respective wallets. Not so fast, the paper explains – since Title IX prohibits discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance, this federal law is that “inconvenient truth” not to be swept away by advocates of paying college athletes in “revenue” sports. Readers aligned with “laissez faire” or “hold fast to amateurism” camps in this athlete-compensation debate will find my proposed solutions irritating. Would that it stimulates thoughtful conversations about future stewarding of college athletics and their participants, viewed through the lenses of current federal law and association regulations--before courts or legislatures determine the "best" course of governance.

Keywords: Paying college student-athletes, Student-Athlete Payment, College Athlete Payment, Title IX, Gender Parity, Grants-In-Aid, Student-Athlete Financial Aid, Scholarship Athlete, Cost of Attendance, Full Scholarship, College Athletics, College Sports, Athlete Stipend, Amateur Athletics, Women's Sports

JEL Classification: D73, E24, J32, J33, J45, K21

Suggested Citation

Widener, Michael N., Compensating Collegiate Athletes in 'Store Credit' (June 28, 2016). 47 U. Memphis Law Review 431 (2016); Arizona Summit Law School Paper Series No. 2016-A-04. Available at SSRN: or

Michael N. Widener (Contact Author)

Bonnett, Fairbourn, Friedman & Balint ( email )

2325 East Camelback Road
Suite 300
Phoenix, AZ 85016
United States

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University ( email )

Prescott, AZ 86301
United States

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