Ever so quietly last week, the NCAA took a long, overdue baby step toward making things right for the chattel that keeps college sports in business, namely the players.
The organization that governs collegiate athletics in this country and 11 college conferences reached a tentative agreement in a class action lawsuit filed three years ago by a former West Virginia running back.
The suit, filed by Shawne Alston and joined later by a number of plaintiffs, alleges that the NCAA and its member schools unlawfully conspired to keep athletes from receiving what is called the full cost of attending college.
Alston and his fellow plaintiffs contend that NCAA schools only awarded athletes tuition and fees, room and board and course-related books, while barring them from working or from making money from their sport, say, from signing autographs or selling their likenesses.
The NCAA changed its rules two years ago to permit schools to pay players an amount above the cost of a scholarship -- somewhere between $2,500 and $6,000 a year -- to the highest profile athletes, namely football and men’s and women’s basketball players.
However, Alston and his fellow plaintiffs sued to recoup money they believe they should have been given before the NCAA changed those rules.
The two sides have reportedly agreed on a pool of nearly $209 million to be paid to roughly 40,000 athletes who played since March 2010.
Assuming U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken signs off on the settlement, members of the affected class could expect to receive, on average, about $6,800 each, assuming they decide not to sue the schools and the NCAA.
Meeting the cost of attendance is the least the NCAA should do for the student-athletes, the wonderfully cynical term the organization invented to describe the exploited group of young people who make all of college sports possible.
Considering the hours they put in for what are ostensibly full-time jobs and the billions they make without receiving a single dime in compensation, those athletes should have been paid years ago on top of a scholarship.
But the NCAA and its schools have labored long and hard to keep its free labor under heel, with varying degrees of support from the public.
And, according to research from the journal Political Research Quarterly, one of the underpinnings of the public’s unwillingness to get behind paying college athletes is anti-black prejudice.
The study, released last week by the academic journal, found that among whites with a high degree of racial resentment, there was considerable difference in their support of the idea of paying college players contingent on whether they were shown white or black faces before they were asked a question.
That’s not surprising. Sports may be a meritocracy, but even it can’t avoid race, the third rail of American society.
That said, the NCAA deserves some credit for taking the first step towards justice. But we’ll be watching to see that it keeps moving steadily in that direction too.
And that’s how I see it for this week.
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