Ninth Circuit: No Minimum Wage for College Football Players

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – College football players are not NCAA employees entitled to minimum wage, the Ninth Circuit ruled Monday, dashing student athletes’ hopes of getting more than scholarship money out of the multibillion-dollar-per-year college sports industry.

Former University of Southern California linebacker Lamar Dawson sued the National Collegiate Athletic Association and Pacific-12 Conference in 2016, arguing they violated state and federal labor laws by capping compensation for student athletes at less than minimum wage.

In an 18-page opinion, a three-judge panel found NCAA rules limiting athletic scholarships do not make it a de facto employer of college football players.

“Dawson cannot demonstrate that the NCAA or the PAC-12 had the power to fire or hire him,” Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Sidney Thomas, a Bill Clinton appointee, wrote on behalf of the panel.

Because scholarships are provided by schools and not the NCAA or Pac-12, the panel found student athletes had no “expectation of compensation” from the college sports leagues.

“They do not determine whether he gets a scholarship or in what amount,” Thomas wrote.

The panel further rejected claims that the “economic reality” of the multibillion-dollar college sports industry requires that athletes be paid for their central role in driving that income.

“The revenue generated by college sports does not unilaterally convert the relationship between student athletes and the NCAA into an employment relationship,” Thomas wrote.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg’s dismissal of the lawsuit in April 2017.

Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Andrew Kleinfeld, a George H.W. Bush appointee, and U.S. District Judge George Wu, sitting by designation from the Central District of California and a George W. Bush appointee, joined Thomas on the panel.

The case is one of several lawsuits seeking compensation for student athletes that was filed in the Northern District of California federal court. In March, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled that student athletes may receive more education-related compensation from universities but not cash. The NCAA has appealed.

In 2015, Wilken also approved a $40 million deal in which Electronic Arts agreed to compensate student athletes for using their images and likenesses in video games.

Attorneys for the NCAA, Pac-12 and plaintiff Dawson did not immediately return emails and phone calls seeking comment on Monday.

Dawson is represented by Betsy Carol Manifold of Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz in San Diego.

The NCAA is represented by Kenneth Sulzer of Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete in Los Angeles, and Pac-12 is represented by Diana Tabacopoulos of Seyfarth Shaw in Los Angeles.

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