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No Minimum Wage for NCAA Athletes, 7th Circuit Rules

By William Vogeler, Esq. on December 12, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Two track-and-field students sued for the love of the game and minimum wage, but came up short at the finish line.

The Seventh Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs could not make a case for minimum wage claims because of the "long tradition of amateur sports" that students play for reasons "wholly unrelated to immediate compensation."

"Simply put, student-athletic 'play' is not 'work,'" Judge Michael S. Kanne wrote for the unanimous court in Berger v. National Collegiate Athletic Association.

What About Scholarships?

In a concurring opinion, Judge David F. Hamilton pointed out that the athletes did not have scholarships to play at their school. Like other Ivy League schools, he said, the University of Pennsylvania does not offer student-athlete scholarships.

That begs an interesting question, he suggested, although it was not before the court. What is the relationship between scholarship student-athletes and their schools in sports like basketball and football?

"In those sports, economic reality and the tradition of amateurism may not point in the same direction," he said. "Those sports involve billions of dollars of revenue for colleges and universities."

Back to the End Zone

In affirming the dismissal, the Seventh Circuit followed the majority of courts that have held student-athletes are not employees. The Department of Labor, the court said, has also indicated that student-athletes are not employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

"As the Supreme Court has noted, there exists 'a revered tradition of amateurism in college sports,'" the appeals court said, citing Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. of Okla. "That long-standing tradition defines the economic reality of the relationship between student athletes and their schools."

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