Amid Image-Rights Crisis, NCAA Sued for Basic Wages


     INDIANAPOLIS (CN) – Taking a different tack from the student athletes seeking compensation for use of their image rights, a University of Houston soccer player hopes to represent a class against Division I schools that deny student athletes a minimum wage.
     The latest federal class action comes as the National Collegiate Athletic Association’ appeals an injunction it faces in the class action brought by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon who wanted a share of the revenues schools earn from use of student-athletes’ names, images and likenesses.
     Samantha Sackos filed her complaint Monday in Indiana where the NCAA is based, seeking damages she claims student-athletes are owed by Division I schools under the minimum-wage provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
     Sackos said that, every soccer season for four years at the University of Houston, she “worked as an unpaid student athlete,” at least 20 hours over six days every week.
     Every Division I school from Abilene Christian University to Youngstown State University “conspired to … misclassify[] plaintiff and members of the student athlete collective as unpaid labor rather than temporary employees, prohibiting payment of lawfully earned, modest wages to them,” the complaint states.
     About a third of the 26-page complaint is dedicated to listing the dozens of Division I schools that Sackos named as defendants alongside the NCAA.
     “Work study participants who sell programs or usher at athletic events are paid, on average, $9.03 an hour, but student athletes whose performance creates such work study jobs in the athletic department are paid nothing,” the complaint states (emphasis in original).
     In rebuffing an attempt by Sackos’ attorneys attempts to resolve the matter outside of court, the NCAA likened participation in student athletics to an extracurricular activity like glee club, according to the complaint.
     Sackos says her attorneys countered that such groups are student-organized and dissimilar to regulated sports, which are supervised by full-time, paid coaching staffs.
     In a statement on the complaint, the NCAA’s chief legal officer Donald Remy disagreed “that student-athletes are participating in sports as employees.”
     “Student-athletes have a passion for their sport and a commitment to their teammates that can’t be equated to punching a time clock,” Remy added.
     But Sackos says her attorneys already directed the NCAA to a provision in the Department of Labor Field Operations Handbook that says “an employment relationship will generally exist with regard to students whose duties are not part of an overall educational program … for example, students who work at food service counters or sell programs or usher at athletic events, or who wait on tables or wash dishes in dormitories.”
     Though some student athletes receive scholarships, such awards do not constitute compensation because they are treated as nontaxable income that can be spent only on academic costs, according to the complaint.
     Sackos says the NCAA did not to respond to her attorneys’ “critique” of its basis for misclassifying student athletes.
     The class is represented by Paul McDonald of McDonald Law in Philadelphia.

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