The NCAA vs. Student Athletes: The End of the 'the Best Business Model in the World'?

Ann McClure's picture
Friday, February 1, 2013

College sports is a multi-billion-dollar business. Do its workers deserve to be paid?

It's a simple question taking a convoluted journey through our legal system. But student-athletes are closer to getting their day in court, since a judge ruled yesterday that NCAA athletes can legally pursue a cut of the billions of dollars flowing to college sports through TV deals.

In 2011, civil-rights historian Taylor Branch made a monster case for paying college athletes in The Atlantic. He predicted that law suits like this could could destroy the business model of the NCAA. To dig into the economics of paying college athletes, I called up Dave Berri, a sports economist with Southern Utah University and the author of The Wages of Wins, who cheekily called the NCAA's rule against paying its own athletes "the best business model in the world." A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows:

THOMPSON: A judge has have given the green light to a class-action lawsuit brought by former college players to compel the NCAA to pay student athletes out of its TV revenue. Big deal? Or no big deal?

BERRI: It definitely means something. The NCAA has been opposed to the idea of sharing its revenue with its players for about 100 years.

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