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NCAA student-athlete compensation claim takes ‘aggressive’ next step

A new government entity is joining the growing movement to have athletes considered employees.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) may soon begin what a legal expert describes as an “aggressive investigation” into whether unpaid college athletes are being discriminated against because they don’t are not fairly compensated. The EEOC was recently referred to an employment and civil rights complaint filed by the National College Players Association (NCPA) with the Department of Education in March.

The complaint claims that the 350 NCAA Division I schools violated the civil rights of black students by agreeing to cap compensation. The NCAA limits what schools can offer athletes in terms of scholarships and largely prohibits any direct compensation to players.

The athlete employment debate has grown in recent years as revenue growth within the college sports industry continues to expand in a variety of ways, primarily driven by basketball and soccer. masculine. For example, in the most recent revenue windfall, the Big Ten struck a TV deal to earn $1.1 billion a year, and executives just approved a college football playoff expansion that could make $2 billion. per year.

“It’s only a matter of time before college athletes are considered employees. This is definitely one of the takeaways from this decision,” says NCPA Executive Director Ramogi Huma. “But we believe every department should do its part in terms of enforcing existing laws relating to the rights of college athletes and students, including the Department of Education.”

In a letter sent to NCAA schools last week, Anamaria Loya, the chief attorney for the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, said the complaint was outside the department’s jurisdiction and had been dismissed. at the EEOC District Office in San Francisco. Sports Illustrated got a copy of the letter through an open case request.

Michael LeRoy, an Illinois law professor who has published extensive work on labor policy, says the dismissal ruling means the complaint is “taken very seriously” and is a “big deal” for some who pushed for college athletes to be considered employees.

“This will trigger an aggressive investigation,” LeRoy predicted. “I expect the EEOC to file an employment discrimination lawsuit, and the schools will fall back on their 116-year-old argument that this is amateur athletics. This will be another thorn in the side of NCAA athletic programs. »

The EEOC receives up to 100,000 employment complaints a year and prosecutes about 500, LeRoy says. The process begins with an investigation, which will invariably lead to a request for information from the EEOC from schools and athletes.

“It is somewhat significant that [the complaint] isn’t completely dead and there’s another government agency dealing with it,” said Mit Winter, a Kansas City-based sports attorney who has handled NCAA-related cases in the past. “Schools will have the opportunity to show that they do not discriminate against athletes. The EEOC could simply accept this reasoning and decide not to pursue the charges.

The NCPA complaint, as reported by SI in March, is part of an athlete rights movement that has generated sweeping changes to archaic NCAA policies governing compensation and transfer policies. This follows the NCPA’s decision in February to file unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against the NCAA office, the Pac-12 conference and California schools USC and UCLA. The goal is to affirm employee status for DI basketball players and FBS football players. An NLRB hearing is scheduled as early as this fall.

The EEOC’s complaint seeks to eliminate the compensation cap, potentially opening the door for athletes to receive additional compensation from their schools. In the complaint, the NCPA argues that because a high percentage of black students are also varsity athletes, the NCAA-wide compensation cap has a “disparate impact” on black students.

The letter notes that the EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers of 15 or more people from discriminating against their employees and applicants for employment on the basis of race, color , origin, gender identity, sex or religion. .

“This is another way the Biden administration is saying they’re not giving up on the college athletics employment issue,” LeRoy says. “They will investigate. Since this is a Biden tip, they’re likely going to ask the schools for information about the disparity.

Many college athletes believe that employment status comes at some point for college athletes. The EEOC represents one of four possible pathways for this to happen. The NLRB is another possibility. The council’s general counsel, appointed by Biden, has expressed a willingness to run college athletes as employees. In Pennsylvania, a court case, Johnson v. NCAA, is making its way into the system that would make athletes employees. The fourth route to athlete employment status is Congress. Several bills could open a legal path for schools to provide athletes with collective bargaining rights and even revenue-sharing provisions.

Viewing college athletes as employees would have broad implications for athletes and their universities. Athletes would be introduced to federal taxation and could be fired by their new employer, the school. Schools could lose their designation under 501(3)c, which impacts taxation on bond financing and charitable donations. Experts say tuition fees and public support could also disappear.

It is a complex question. Like a freight train, says an athletic director, it’s looming over college sports, bundled with other changes that are rapidly altering the landscape of the industry — some say for the better, some say for the worse.

The NCPA’s nine-page complaint outlines the millions of dollars basketball and soccer players are missing out on because of what it calls “unfair compensation caps.” The complaint gives estimates of the compensation percentage of total earnings that each major sport athlete receives – 29.9% for women’s basketball, 8.9% for men’s basketball and 8.1% for soccer. Female basketball players are each denied $24,000 a year; male players $164,000; and football players $185,000, according to the complaint.

“College athletes in predominantly white sports receive fair compensation, but athletes in only predominantly black sports [FBS football and men’s and women’s basketball] don’t do it,” Huma told SI in the spring. “All college athletes should have the opportunity to receive fair compensation. It can happen without cutting any sport. Colleges would only have to spend a little less on coaching salaries and luxury facilities.