By M. Tyler Brown | 63 Am. U. L. Rev. 1855 (2014)

College athletes are beginning to speak out against the current college sport model that treats college athletes as unpaid amateurs, while the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) continues to stand behind that model. The problem, not uncommonly, boils down to money.  High-profile college teams and athletes generate substantial revenue for their respective universities.  Some college athletes dedicate as much time to their sport as the average American worker dedicates to his or her job.  However, college athletes often do not receive the benefit of their bargain with universities:  a college education. 

This Comment argues for a compromise between the current amateurism model and the oft-proposed “pay-for-play” model of college sports, in which college athletes are paid for their athletic participation.  If athletics are an important aspect of a well-rounded education, as the NCAA and others contend, then college athletes should receive some academic benefit for their participation, just as their peers who participate in other extracurricular activities like music or theater do.  Awarding academic credit for athletic participation would help further athletes’ progress toward graduation, thereby providing college athletes with a greater benefit for their bargain.

By framing college athletics as an internship under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), universities would avoid the requirement to compensate all college athletes as employees.  Providing academic credit for an educational experience dramatically increases the likelihood that an “employee” is considered an “intern” under the FLSA, thereby exempting the employer from the compensation requirement.  Further, universities could structure internship classes to include all students, not just athletes, and provide a forum to teach students important work-related skills that cannot be taught in a traditional classroom setting.  Reframing college athletics as internships would increase the benefit to college athletes while still maintaining the current unpaid-amateur model.


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