Will this summer be a turning point for college athletics?
The full answer to that is complex, multi-faceted, and, of course, still to emerge. But two experts in sports law summarized their responses concisely during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program, posted on the Marquette Law School web site on May 27:
“I think so,” said Steve Ross, Lewis H. Vovakis Distinguished Faculty Scholar at Penn State University and Executive Director of the Penn State Center for the Study of Sports in Society.
Are we at a watershed moment for college sports?
“I think we are,” said Professor Matt Mitten, executive director of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University Law School. “We’re coming to a crossroads within the next month.”
Ross and Mitten spoke with Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy, about what the implications could be of a US Supreme Court decision, expected soon, in Alston v. NCAA, the first Supreme Court case involving the NCAA in 37 years. Plaintiffs are challenging rules which restrict compensation for college athletes.
The two experts also discussed changes that are unfolding that would allow college athletes to be paid for use of their names, images and likenesses, known as NIL rights. Such compensation is generally not permitted now, but action to allow athletes to benefit is being considered by Congress and is scheduled to go into effect soon in some states.
The NIL changes could especially benefit a small number of star athletes in major college sports, and could impact the competitive balance in some sports and the vitality of college sports that do not attract big audiences and big money, Mitten and Ross said.
Mitten also outlined different possibilities for the impact that could result from what the Supreme Court decides in the Alston case.
Mitten said that the real issue underlying current developments is who is in the best position to determine rules for producing college sports and distinguishing college sports from professional sports. College sports have operated for many years under the principle that the athletes are amateurs who an college students. Lawsuits and advocacy from some athletes have argued that that current rules limiting athletes to payment for their college education and related expenses should be change.
Mitten said that whatever develops with rules for NIL rights, they need to be uniform nationwide, which is something Congress is in the position to do.
Gousha asked if “we are in some respects witnessing the end of the traditional definition of amateurism in college athletics.”
Mitten answered, “I think that we certainly are, because there is no question that student athletes are going to have, and I feel will exercise, their NIL rights to earn some income.”
“The question is going to be, what is going to continue to distinguish college sports, what makes them non-professional,” Mitten said. Congress and the courts are going to have a greater voice in determining what will happen, he said.
Roth said some people have argued for decades that amateurism was dying. “I don’t think there has ever been real amateurism,” he said. College athletes are paid now based on what the NCAA permits them to be paid, he said, given the scholarships and other benefits they receive. While the NCAA argues that paying athletes would reduce public interest in college sports, Roth said he wasn’t sure most people would care.
Ross said one thing NCAA could do is “double down on its distinction” by requiring colleges “to really give their athletes an education.”
Mitten said that he hopes one thing that emerges will be renewed emphasis on the academic work of athletes. Most college athletes will never be professional athletes and the best thing they can do in college is get an education, he said.
To view the program, click here.