A Supreme Court decision last week will lead to profound changes in college sports.
But the unanimous ruling in National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Alston still fails to address the most confounding questions: Why are some of America’s most prestigious universities de facto minor leagues for the NFL and the NBA? And why is the point guard more lauded than the Nobel laureate in the corner office?
Of course, the court wasn’t tasked with answering those questions; that is best left to sociologists and economists. Instead, the Supreme Court was asked whether the business model used by big-time college sports is constitutional.
To that, the justices left no room for debate. As Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in a concurring opinion: “Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate.”
In other words, the NCAA refuses to pay athletes who are the attraction for an industry that generates billions of dollars a year. At the University of Washington, for example, the athletic department generated $138 million in revenue during the last pre-pandemic school year. The football coach was paid $4.125 million by the school; his players received no salary.
To defend this practice, NCAA lawyers argued that amateurism is an integral part of big-time college sports; they were sharply rebuked.