I’ve been having trouble finding the right sports metaphor for the newest lawsuit against the NCAA on behalf of former amateur athletes. It isn’t a Hail Mary because the players aren’t desperate, they’re likely on the eventual winning side actually. The lawsuit isn’t a buzzer beater; the players have all the time in the world. Ironically, because it’s one of the lower revenue sports1, baseball is likely the most apt metaphor. This particular lawsuit could be a walk-off home run for former “amateur” athletes.
Sharrif Floyd, recent first round draft pick of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, is the named plaintiff in this lawsuit, Floyd et al v. NCAA – referred to as Floyd going forward,2 that will look to take a different tactic into its attack on the current NCAA format. The goal is the same, but the path is much different.
The lawsuit/NLRB complaint that the Northwestern student athletes applied for3 attempted to argue that the amount of work that student-athletes put into being an athlete was essentially the same as being an employee. Floyd almost assumes that to be true4 and accuses the NCAA and its member institutions of fixing the cost of reimbursing athletes for their services.
Why is this a potential walk-off, Puig-style bat flipping, home run? Floyd attacks NCAA football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball; all in one fell swoop. Paragraph six of Floyd is where the rubber meets the road.
“The restrictive rules for the NCAA and member conferences and institutions (Participating in the FBS and D-IA basketball programs) serve as the contract between Defendants and their conspirators unlawfully restraining trade in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act.5 In the several billion dollar marketplace that is the FBS and D-IA basketball, absent these artificial restrictions the NCAA’s member institutions would compete for talent by offering players at minimum the full Cost of Attendance, and likely much more, rather than the significantly lower GIA.”6
The Sherman Antitrust Act (1890) is one of the most influential pieces of antitrust legislation. The part of Section 1 of the Sherman Act that Floyd refers to states:
“Every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is declared to be illegal.”
Now that sentence is true legalese, unlike many of these current sports related lawsuits. Essentially, this makes it a felony to conspire with others to artificially reduce the price of, in this case, labor. Having an NCAA rule that all colleges MUST obey or they are eliminated from the NCAA, which effectively is being eliminated from organized athletic competition, which demands schools to only offer full grant-in-aid scholarships to student-athletes breaks the Sherman Act. Floyd sees this as exploitative and illegal.
In Paragraph 78, Floyd takes a quick jab at the NCAA, saying:
“According to the NCAA’s website, the NCAA was founded in 1906 to ‘protect young people from the dangerous and exploitive athletic practices of the time.’”
The lawsuit contends that this price fixing is exploitive and illegal because the guise of amateurism that the NCAA hides behind is not a reality. Noting that the D-IA football generates $3 billion in revenues, men’s basketball generates $1 billion and women’s basketball, $198 million.
On top of attempting to kill arguments against a change in paying student-athletes, Floyd also attempts to offer ways to solve the problem of paying student-athletes directly or allowing them to take sponsorship opportunities. Specifically, “restrictions on players’ commercial opportunities, similar to the Olympic model, would further allow players to access the free commercial market.”7
If this lawsuit succeeds, along with the NLRB ruling for Northwestern, there will be a seismic shift in the way that colleges and society as a whole view college athletes and the compensation they receive for their skills, across the board. This could be a boon for football and basketball players, but could also cause problems for the many non-revenue sports. Floyd is going for the jugular after so many lawsuits have tried to nibble around the edges. This could be the one to take down the false amateurism label given to student-athletes in the current system.