Defining the Employment Status of a College Football Player

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In recent news, the question was asked, “Is a college football player an employee of the NCAA?” The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recent affirmed dismissal of a college football player’s lawsuit for failure to state a legal claim clearly indicates they feel the answer is no. The ruling means that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Pac-12 Conference are not legally required to pay a college football player minimum wage and overtime in accordance with federal or California wage laws.

The NCAA, a not-for-profit educational organization, and the Pac-12 Conference were listed as defendants in a proposed class action lawsuit filed by a college football player. The plaintiff claimed they acted as joint employers because they prescribed terms and conditions under which student athletes perform. The appeals court ruled that the football players were not employees under the FLSA due to economic realities in the relationship between the entities listed as defendants and the players. The found that the defendants in the case were regulatory bodies rather than employees and in so doing, upheld a district court’s ruling on the case.

The appeals court stated that the district court was accurate in their dismissal of the college football player’s California overtime claims based on the state’s decision to exclude student athletes from receiving workers compensation benefits combined with the state appellate court’s interpretations of the related legislation.

When considering the district court’s dismissal of the football player’s suit, the 9th Circuit used the “economic realities” test under FLSA. The test considers certain variables:

The plaintiff’s expectation of compensation

The alleged employer’s power to hire and/or fire

Any evidence that action was taken to evade the law

The court found that limitations on scholarships did not establish an expectation of compensation, the players were not able to show that either regulatory entity held the power to fire or hire a player, and that the NCAA rules did not show a clear intent to evade wage and hour law. They also found that the revenue generated by the relationship between the NCAA and their student athletes did not create an employment relationship.

If you have questions about the Fair Labor Standards Act, unpaid overtime or wage and hour law, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik and DeBlouw LLP today.