Student Athlete Compensation

Michael Pedowitz

In December of 2010, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) suspended five football players from the Ohio State University.[i]  The football players were found to have sold memorabilia to the owner of a tattoo parlor for cash and discounted tattoos in violation of NCAA rules.[ii]  When asked about selling these items, the players responded that they believed that “the items were theirs, that they owned them, and they had the right to do what they wanted to do with them.”[iii]  This situation highlights a significant problem that many college athletes face, namely the inability to provide for themselves outside the parameters of their athletic scholarships.[iv]

            For years, student athletes have been seeking to be compensated for their play on the field.[v]  With the growth of college athletics through major television contracts, student athletes have been looking for their “piece of the pie.”[vi]  Unfortunately, NCAA rules prohibit compensating athletes.[vii]  Proponents of keeping the status quo of college athletics believe that an athletic scholarship is a direct form of compensation.[viii]  Due to recent events, such as the situation at Ohio State University and prior lawsuits, the NCAA and university presidents from major athletic conferences[ix] passed a new rule that allows schools to offer stipends to their players up to the full cost of attending the university.[x]  This figure, while miniscule compared to the amount of money the universities are making, now allows for college athletes to have money at their disposal for things that are not covered by the athletic scholarship.[xi]  The ability to provide student athletes with a stipend up to the full cost of attending the university has led schools to inflate their cost of attendance figure as a way of circumventing the inability to pay college athletes.[xii]

            The NCAA was created to prevent the exploitation of the student athletes.  In doing so, it created one of the most powerful organizations built on the backs of student athletes who, until recently, did not receive any of the profits.  In an era when everyone is after a slice of the pie, the NCAA cannot hide behind the notion that student athletes are amateurs as a way of barring student athletes from being compensated.  Through antitrust lawsuits that chipped away at the NCAA’s armor, changes were instituted to allow student athletes to receive the full cost of attendance through the award of an athletic scholarship.  Colleges and universities, however, have taken advantage of this rule and inflated the cost of attendance figure in an effort to lure recruits and compensate current players.  Without addressing the problem of inflated cost of attendance figures as a way of compensating student athletes, the concept of  “amateurism” will cease to exist.  Steps must be taken to ensure that the figures published by schools are accurate to safeguard rule violations by those who seek to use it as an impermissible form of compensation.

[i]           Doug Lesmerises, Terrelle Pryor Among Five Ohio State University Football Players Suspended for 5 Games in 2011, (Dec. 23, 2010, 6:45 PM),
[ii]           Id.
[iii]          Id.
[iv]          See Jennifer Smith, New Cost-of-Attendance Payments to Athletes Not As Large At Kentucky As Some of Its Competitors, (Apr. 18, 2015, 4:08 PM),
[v]           See McCormack v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 845 F.2d 1338 (5th Cir. 1988); Jones v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 392 F. Supp. 295 (DMass. 1975).
[vi]             See Sean Gregory, It’s Time to Pay College Athletes, Time (Sept. 16, 2013),,33009,2151167-1,00.html.
[vii]         Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 2015–2016 NCAA Division 1 Manual art. 2 § 2.9 (2016).
[viii]        Gregory, supra note 6.
[ix]          Steve Berkowitz & Andrew Kreighbaum, College Athletes Cashing in with Millions in New Benefits, USA Today (Aug. 19, 2015, 4:05 PM),  The major athletic conferences are the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12 Pacific-12, and Southeastern.  Id.
[x]           Brad Wolverton, NCAA’s Top Conferences to Allow Additional Aid for Athletes, Chron. of Higher Educ. (Jan. 14, 2015),
[xi]          Jake New, Colleges Inflate Full Cost of Attendance Numbers, Increasing Stipends for Athletes, Inside Higher Ed (Aug. 12, 2015, 3:00 AM),
[xii]         Brad Wolverton & Sandhya Kambhampati, At Least 15 Athletics Programs to Offer More Than $4,000 in Extra Aid to Athletes, Chron. of Higher Educ. (Apr. 09, 2015),

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