Beyond Labels

A 360° Discussion of Foreign, National and Local Policy Issues

6/10: College Sports as Big Business

On Monday, we’ll consider some of the recent developments involving the NCAA and its relationship with colleges (mostly Division 1 ones), “big sport” athletics (where there are lots of fans and big revenue streams), and “small sport” athletics (which attract smaller audiences and income).

To get us started, here’s a detailed write-up from one of our regular participants:

There has been a flurry of recent litigation and settlements involving the NCAA. Why, and what is the impact?

The NCAA was established in 1906 at the encouragement of then President Teddy Roosevelt to develop rules to promote the safety of college football after a number of deaths in that sport.  At its outset no student representing a college in sports was to be paid.  Since that time, this not-for-profit organization and its affiliated not for profit member schools have become a multibillion-dollar business. In the 2021 Supreme Court decision of ‘NCAA v. Alston’ the court ruled against the narrow subset of rules involving education related benefits (Scholarship and Name Image and Likeness, NIL, compensation).  But Justice Kavanaugh’s concurrence noted that other restrictions, likely to be antitrust, remained unresolved, stating: “The NCAA’s business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America.”   He even delineated the issues to be resolved in such an anticipated case: 20-512_gfbh.pdf (  (This opinion gives a concise history of college sports and the NCAA.)

In this regard recently this week, in further litigation ‘House v. NCAA’ a multibillion-dollar settlement was reached in which the NCAA would compensate for past restrictions and agree to some sort of revenue sharing in the future:  College athletes set to get $2.8 billion, revenue-sharing model in landmark House v. NCAA settlement –

Also related, the NCAA agreed to remove its eligibility penalty rule for students who transfer to another school:  NCAA settlement will allow transfer students immediate eligibility with their new schools (

Justice Kavanaugh himself recognized the difficult policy and practical problems: “How would paying greater compensation to student athletes affect non-revenue-raising sports? (Would the Olympic sports in colleges be defunded?) Could student athletes in some sports but not others receive compensation? How would any compensation regime comply with Title IX (equality of women’s sports)?  And given that there are now about 180,000 Division I student athletes, what is a financially sustainable way of fairly compensating some or all of those student athletes? Of course, those difficult questions could be resolved in ways other than litigation. Legislation would be one option. Or colleges and student athletes could potentially engage in collective bargaining.”  The NCAA is apparently hoping to pursue the legislative exemption to the antitrust problem similar to what was done with Major League Baseball and the NFL.  (How did that work?)

In addition, the NCAA quietly announced that its gender policy “remains under review”, presumably in response to recent litigation this year from both sides of that issue.

We can discuss the impact of all of the NCAA litigation, in addition to the broader implications we have touched on before: What is the role of sports at a university?  As a society, have we lost confidence in institutions and our community organizations to set rules and boundaries of behavior?

Here are three other resources he identified:

1 Comment


    For those interested in a long view of $$ and College Sports, there is an excellent book by James Shulman and William Bowen, THE GAME OF LIFE: COLLEGE SPORTS AND EDUCATIONAL VALUES. Bowen was president of Princeton 1973-88 which was before Scott Miller arrived.
    The book is packed with social science research about cohorts of athletes and spectators (and $$$) from 1950-2000. Interestingly, NO colleges or universities have offered courses on the subject; easy to study other institutions, but not your own.

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