Could a Sport’s Revenue be the Difference-Maker in Fight for Paid Student-Athletes?

A federal judge in California held a Seventh Circuit’s decision inapplicable to the Fair Labor Standards Act case brought by former University of Southern California linebacker, Lamar Dawson. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg rejected the defendants’ motion to stay the wage-and-hour case in spite of the NCAA and PAC 12’s motion to dismiss Dawson’s claims.

Dawson brought this class action suit after leaving USC in December 2015, arguing he was “denied full pay for all hours worked, including overtime pay, and was frequently permitted to work without receiving required minimum wage payments.” In arguing against the motions to delay his current case, Dawson contended that the Seventh Circuit’s decision in Berger v. NCAA was not applicable to this case because track and field is not a revenue-producing sport. In that case, members of the University of Pennsylvania’s track and field program argued they were entitled to compensation as employees of their respective schools. The Seventh Circuit held that “student-athletic ‘play’ is not ‘work,’ at least as the term is used in the FLSA.”

In this case, Dawson pointed to a note from the concurring opinion in Berger arguing that, because track and field was not a revenue producing sport, the majority’s holding should extend to student athletes receiving athletic scholarships for revenue-producing sports. Thus, Dawson argued, Berger is inapplicable to cases involving major college sports like football and basketball that produce hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Judge Seeborg agreed with Dawson, finding the Berger decision “not controlling” on the case at bar.

This case is yet another example of college athletes pushing for compensation for their services that produce such massive amounts of revenue for their schools. For example, in 2014, members of the Northwestern University Football Team petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to unionize, but their efforts were cut short when the NLRB voted to not exercise jurisdiction over the football team’s request. Dawson’s case — if successful — could present a new shift in the fight for paid student athletes.

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