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Are student-athletes employees?

On Behalf of | Jan 4, 2023 | Employment Law

A recent statement by the NCAA seems to double down on assertions that student-athletes are not employees, pushing back on the continuing claims by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The entity asserts its belief that a change in status would likely create division and negatively impact the hard work and sacrifice that comes with college sports.

A decades-long battle

This is not the first time that the NCAA has made such assertions. Going back decades, they have tried to maintain the status quo on their student-athletes. However, the dynamic has evolved into a defacto “big business” entity. Today’s notable college athletes garner celebrity status, with major sponsors competing to have their brand names and prominent bowl games attached to them.

In spite of that growth, colleges and the NCAA have avoided any moves to rein in their control over their athletes. Yet, they have come under intense scrutiny in recent years for their business models, leading to multiple court rulings that have significantly altered the operations of collegiate sports.

Conversely, the NLRB continues to assert the employee status of athletes with the NCAA, Pac-12, and University of Southern California. They see the combination of these organizations serving as joint employers that continue to violate federal law and labor rights while denying athletes employee status.

Changing the status would lead to a dramatic shift for all student-athletes nationwide, starting with the right to unionize and formally advocate for improved working and playing conditions.

A major move

Nearly a year after filing the initial charge and trying to find common ground, the Los Angeles Region of the National Labor Relations made an announcement this past December. They will pursue unfair labor practice charges against USC, the Pac-12, and the NCAA, treating them as both single and joint employers.

Meanwhile, today’s student-athletes remain in a state of limbo, likely coming to the realization that while they may not ever be considered employees, future players may benefit from such a designation.