February 29, 2016

Is It Game Over for College Athletes Seeking Pay for Play?

Student-athletes arguing that they should be considered employees—and paid accordingly—for their athletic pursuits will need to draw up some new plays after a recent ruling out of an Indiana court. On Feb. 15, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana dismissed claims brought by three former University of Pennsylvania track and field athletes, who argued they should have made minimum wage for their time with the team under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In his opinion, Judge William T. Lawrence cited the Department of Labor’s position that interscholastic athletes are not employees and quoted a U.S. Supreme Court decision touting the “revered tradition of amateurism in college sports.”

“It is safe to say this decision finding student-athletes are not employees will have an impact on future suits,” Stacey Smiricky, partner in Faegre Baker Daniels' labor and employment practice, told Law360, adding that the FLSA has a very broad definition of employee.

Smiricky said it might be possible for athletic scholarship recipients at major private colleges to make a more compelling case for compensation, but said even that would be an uphill battle.

“Ultimately, though, I do not think it will matter as courts likely will focus on the fact that student-athletes benefit from participating in the athletic programs,” Smiricky said.

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