The debate over the proper role for college sports and treatment of student-athletes touches on a number of important issues—whether the NCAA and universities commit antitrust violations by denying student-athletes certain benefits; whether student-athletes should legally be considered employees; whether student-athletes should be paid a salary and permitted to unionize. Attendant also to that debate is the subject of the extraordinary salaries of the college football and basketball coaches who occupy an important place in the collegiate athletic system. As of 2019, about two-thirds of the highest paid public employees in each state were coaches at public colleges and universities. Following reports that Louisiana State University’s and the University of Southern California’s new head football coaches would be receiving contract offers worth over $100 million, House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chair representative Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) sent letters to each school asking their respective presidents to explain how such lucrative compensation packages align with the schools’ educational missions. As institutions of higher education, the schools claim tax-exempt status under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3). Pascrell’s letters suggested that the reported salaries for their new football coaches raise concerns about whether the schools are operating consistent with that status. Pascrell asked the universities to provide information on their highest-paid employees, their tax liability for excess nonprofit compensation, and how their pay to coaches compares to total financial aid given to players.
Meanwhile, U.S. District Court Judge John R. Padova denied the NCAA’s request for an interlocutory appeal in Johnson v. NCAA. After Judge Padova found the student-athlete plaintiffs plausibly alleged employee status under the FLSA, the NCAA argued that Seventh and Ninth Circuit precedent had come out the other way, and, in any event, they are a regulatory body, not an employer. Judge Padova’s order said that whether the NCAA employs student-athletes is a mixed question of law and fact that can be reviewed on appeal after final judgment.
The NFL has prevailed in its long-running litigation against former NFL players who alleged that injured players were irresponsibly provided painkillers to remain on the field. The court did not reach the question whether the Labor Management Relations Act preempted the players’ claims. Instead, senior U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup found that the players’ 2014 lawsuit fell outside the statute of limitations for personal injury claims, which ranges from two to six years. Judge Alsup concluded that the players were obligated to conduct a reasonable investigation of the NFL’s responsibility at the time they suffered each injury they now allege against the league.