National Conversation On Amateurism

Nothing lasts forever, right? 

The NCAA’s insistence on keeping its foundational “amateur” business model is being challenged every day. Ensuring that their athletes are considered “amateurs” is what they want to hold on to. If they can, then they don’t have to equitably distribute revenue amongst student-athletes. 

As is the case with everything, the sport is evolving. Student-athletes are more active than ever. Their voices are being heard and compounded by those who came before them. And as this conversation continues, “amateurism” will evolve, or perhaps be eradicated entirely in collegiate athletics.

Today, The Wire wants to discuss this development and spark conversation amongst our users. The more educated and involved student-athletes can be regarding things like amateurism, the better off they will be in the long run. Let us know how you see this all playing out.

What is Amateurism?

Amateurs are not professionals – to put it simply. Any athlete that competes below the specified “professional” level is considered an amateur. The gray area is what we all know and love – college sports. 

What’s important to understand is that the NCAA has never paid athletes – “student-athletes” in this case. By being classified as a “student-athlete,” the NCAA claims that they are “amateur” in status (with a particular focus on the student part) and therefore cannot be paid to participate in their sport. This is the way they prefer things to stay moving forward, according to current court cases and precedents that they’ve referred to. 

This notion is being aggressively challenged in recent years. And rightfully so. Athletic departments depend on the money that student-athletes earn on their own volition. All parties are entitled to their own opinion, but it’s safe to say that the tide is shifting. 

How is the conversation shifting?

One group is using the Fair Labor Standards Act to argue that college athletes are employees and deserve to be paid as such. They’re led by former Villanova football player, Ralph “Trey” Johnson. He is the namesake for the landmark Johnson vs. NCAA court case. 

Ralph "Trey" Johnson with Villanova

Ralph “Trey” Johnson

Another group, led by Jennifer Abruzzo of the National Labor Relations Board, claims that certain athletes at private universities who compete in “revenue sports” should be considered employees. This group has gone as far as threatening legal action against schools if they continue to refer to athletes as “student-athletes.” They argue that this term purposefully misrepresents and obscures their employment status. 

A litany of other cases have arisen in recent years that attempt to dissect and disprove the NCAA’s assertion that student-athletes are “amateur.”

From the NCAA’s perspective, it is clearly shown that athletes do not qualify as FLSA employees. However, this precedent is based on the assumption that student-athletes are amateur. Because this is not clearly stated, this leaves room for conversation and evolution in a way that can better benefit student-athletes. 

Now, popular opinion favors the reclassification of student-athletes to employees – for the most part. There will always be blow back, especially in the case of the NCAA. 

Why has there been a shift in public opinion?

The NCAA’s amateurism model is being publicly scrutinized more than ever. It’s becoming more difficult for the NCAA to defend its position with the public outcry and the recent NIL ruling. 

The NCAA has made it out to seem like nobody could be both an employee and a student. This basic assertion has been the underlying reasoning as to why they continue to withhold fair pay or even athletes’ NIL rights (until recently). 

With that in mind, consider the following scenario: a student at a public university with a power-5 college football team who works the concessions stand at the games. Herein lies a student who is also an employee of the school. What’s the difference? There’s none. For years, nobody has questioned this basic premise, but at its core, the argument appears to be flawed. 

With the advent of social media, public outcry regarding this issue has increased tenfold. And now, more than ever, athletes are demanding their due compensation. 

How does this affect recruits/athletes?

In any case, the continued conversation regarding these issues can only be positive for young athletes. Whether you’re already participating in collegiate athletics, or you intend to in the future, change is happening for the better.

Athletes being given rights to their name, image, and likeness was a huge first step in this journey. The Wire has written about this development before, and athletes of any age should look into how this benefits them. 

Moving forward, it seems plausible, if not likely, that student-athletes may be considered employees. This would mean regular paychecks. This would mean workplace protections and collective bargaining rights, along with potential unionization. 

While this seems great (and it is), it will shake the very foundation that the NCAA has worked from for its entirety. The NCAA is viewing Johnson vs. NCAA as a turning point regarding athletes’ classification. If Johnson, and his growing group of former athletes win this case, the impact will be far-reaching. 

The NCAA claims that their model could fail if they are forced to pay their athletes as employees of their respective schools. From there, there is no telling where the sport could go. 

While we sit and wait for a decision on this case, and others, we implore our athletes to consider the ramifications of these potential outcomes. How can you be affected by the continued alterations of the NCAA model? And how can you use it to your advantage?

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