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Are NCAA Athletes Employees?

    Client Alerts
  • February 11, 2022

In last year’s Alston decision, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the National Collegiate Athletics Association’s argument that as amateur competitors, student athletes could not pursue federal antitrust claims aimed at NCAA rules that limit their ability to seek compensation beyond tuition and related expenses. This decision quickly led to the current name, image and likeness (NIL) compensation paid to collegiate athletes. However, Alston also raised the possibility that athletes would seek other forms of compensation previously inapplicable to amateur students.

Last week, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals accepted appeal of a collective action claim filed by current and former Division I NCAA athletes. The claim alleges that under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the athletes are joint employees of their universities and the NCAA, and therefore are entitled to overtime and minimum wage payments. The district court refused to dismiss the complaint, and the Third Circuit will hear an appeal of the threshold question of whether the student athletes can be considered FLSA employees.

If the plaintiffs prevail in this suit, it opens up a range of potential claims against colleges and universities, including Workers’ Compensation, unemployment insurance coverage, and ability to participate in benefit plans offered to other university employees. Although perhaps not intended by the Alston court, the removal of antitrust protections could result in a wholesale change in the legal relationship between colleges and universities and their student athletes.