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Should college athletes be paid by the NCAA?

When March Madness arrived in full force earlier this week many employment law professionals were paying more attention to the dispute over lucrative NCAA contracts than the basketball games.

The question of whether student-athletes in Maryland and throughout the country should be allowed to reap the profits that they sew has been debated for years. Things are heating up now that a lawsuit has been filed by 24 former student-athletes against the NCAA. If they win, the landscape of collegiate athletics would be transformed into more of an employment arena.

March Madness is a big business, with television rights alone bringing in almost $11 billion over its history. However, student-athletes are getting upset that everyone seems to be getting a piece of the profits except for themselves. In 2009, many high-profile former players filed a lawsuit to challenge a contract that the NCAA forces collegiate athletes to sign. The contract in question prohibits the athletes from earning any money during their college athletic careers. Traditionally, the NCAA has said the contract helps it defend the amateurism of college basketball by denying payments of any kind to the players.

However, many people argue that college basketball players and other student-athletes are being exploited by the NCAA for financial gain. The lawsuit is still in the discovery phase, but if the plaintiffs win the NCAA could be ordered to pay up to hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. The lawsuit specifically argues that the contract violates federal antitrust laws because it bars athletes from controlling their own image and likeness and from making any money of off products using their images, even after they graduate.

In general, the debate comes down to whether college athletes have a right to be compensated for the rebroadcasts of games and the sales of photos, video games, jerseys, etc., after they graduate or stop playing in the NCAA. And at the heart of the question is whether student-athletes should be paid for the services they provide on the courts and playing fields.

Source: PBS, "Money and March Madness-The NCAA Lawsuit," Feb. 9, 2012

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