Student athletes deserve minimum wage, ex-Houston soccer player's suit says

Judge rules against NCAA on compensation
Judge rules against NCAA on compensation

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Story highlights

  • University of Houston student notes those who work at games are paid
  • She says students who are playing the games should get paid, too
  • Hers is the latest pay-for-play lawsuit now before federal courts
Should college athletes at least be paid the same minimum wage as the students who usher at their games or sell refreshments to fans?
A former University of Houston soccer player thinks so, and is suing hundreds of Division 1 universities and the NCAA, comparing collegiate athletics to work-study programs and seeking to get minimum wage payment for athletes.
It's just the latest of a handful of pay-for-play lawsuits now before federal courts.
"Work-study participants who sell programs or usher at athletic events are paid, on average, $9.03 an hour," states the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Indiana. "But student athletes whose performance creates such student jobs in the athletic department are paid nothing."
Samantha Sackos, who played for the University of Houston from 2010 to 2014, filed the suit and claims she is owed back pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act for the time she was "employed" as "an unpaid student athlete."
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Students in work-study programs, her lawsuit says, are considered part-time employees who must be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. But athletes aren't afforded that pay. Instead, because of NCAA rules, their benefits are capped at the cost of a scholarship.
Sackos' lawsuit points out that students in work-study programs are routinely paid for their work. For example, the lawsuit says, on average, a wage of $10.44 is paid to students who provide tours on campus, $11.25 for food concession and counter attendants, and $14.11 for building and grounds cleaning.
"The (d)efendants have jointly agreed, and conspired, to deprive student athletes of lawfully earned, modest wages and of equal treatment under law," wrote Philadelphia attorney Paul L. McDonald.
The NCAA responded by saying it is "evaluating the complaint, but disagree[s] that student-athletes are participating in athletics as employees. Student-athletes have a passion for their sport and a commitment to their teammates that can't be equated to punching a time clock."
Sackos is the latest athlete to sue the NCAA over pay-for-play issues. Her suit mirrors some of the issues raised by Northwestern University football players who took their school to labor court to establish that they were employees of the university with the right to unionize and make demands.
A judge with the National Labor Relations Board agreed that they were employees after hearing testimony about the tight controls kept on student athletes and the emphasis on sport over academics.
That ruling is being appealed by Northwestern.
"Student athletes perform longer, more rigorous hours -- nearer full time," Sackos' lawsuit reads. They are "subject to stricter, more exacting supervision" and "confer as many, if not more, tangible and intangible benefits on NCAA Division I Member Schools."
Sackos' suit might also be helped by another legal victory for student athletes: the recent federal court verdict in favor of former UCLA player Ed O'Bannon, who sued the NCAA over the use of his likeness and image.
A judge in that case ruled that the NCAA's ban on paying players is a violation of anti-trust law and as a result, starting in 2016, schools can choose to pay athletes up to $5,000 per year for the use of their images.
Another set of litigation is pending before the federal courts that seeks to eliminate the pay cap on college athletes, and make college sports more like the pros. The NCAA is fighting that suit, too.
McDonald said Sackos, who is still a student and busy with classes and preparing for grad school, wasn't available to talk about her lawsuit.