CHICAGO (CN) – In another victory for the NCAA, the Seventh Circuit ruled that “play is not work” and denied student-athletes’ demand to be paid minimum wage for their time.
Gillian Berger and Taylor Hennig played on the University of Pennsylvania’s track and field team while attending university.
The former students sued the National Collegiate Athletic Association and more than 120 Division I member schools, arguing that student-athletes are “employees” within the meaning of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.
The original complaint, filed by then-lead plaintiff Samantha Sackos, compared student-athletes to work-study students who are paid about $9 per hour for their work selling tickets, selling food and cleaning the stadium.
“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 said.
The NCAA argued that students’ participation in Division I sports is an extracurricular activity, not a job.
When Sackos first filed her lawsuit, the NCAA was under siege from multiple directions, and faced a loss in a class action brought by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon. A federal judge ordered the NCAA to set aside $5,000 per player for the use of their likenesses in video games.
But the Ninth Circuit reversed that ruling last year, finding that payment to student-athletes should be limited to tuition coverage.
The NCAA also scored a major victory when the National Labor Relations Board declined to recognize Northwestern football players’ right to unionize.
The Seventh Circuit granted the NCAA yet another win on Monday.
“Because NCAA-regulated sports are ‘extracurricular,’ ‘interscholastic athletic’ activities, we do not believe that the Department of Labor intended the FLSA to apply to student athletes,” Judge Michael Kanne said, writing for the three-judge panel. “We find the [Department of Labor’s Field Operations Handbook] interpretation of the student-athlete experience to be persuasive.”
The panel cited the “long tradition” of amateurism in college sports and noted that participation in an athletic program is voluntary.
“Although we do not doubt that student athletes spend a tremendous amount of time playing for their respective schools, they do so – and have done so for over a hundred years under the NCAA – without any real expectation of earning an income. Simply put, student-athletic ‘play’ is not ‘work,’ at least as the term is used in the FLSA,” Kanne wrote.