NCAA, Pac-12 Want Ninth Circuit on their Side in Student-Athlete Wage Suit

The NCAA and the Pac-12 filed a brief asking the Ninth Circuit to uphold the dismissal of a wage action brought by a former USC football player, arguing that not paying student-athletes is precisely what makes them amateurs. “FBS [Football Bowl Subdivision] football players are not Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Employees because amateurism — a system in which compensation is explicitly prohibited — ‘defines the economic reality’ of their activity.” The brief further argued the state law claims failed because California defines the players as student-athletes and not employees. In contrast, the USC player, Lamar Dawson, argued there are factors present that constitute employment, such as the power to hire and fire, supervising and controlling the players’ work schedules and conditions of employment, maintaining detailed employment records and determining the rate of payment.

Dawson played for USC from 2011 to 2015. He began the class-action lawsuit in September 2016 alleging the NCAA and Pac-12 violated California law and the FLSA by not paying football players a minimum wage or overtime. “The reality of the relationship between the students and the universities they work for is that the athletes deserve to be compensated for the enormous value they bring to the universities,” Dawson’s attorney stated. The NCAA argued that paying athletes “could jeopardize the long-term sustainability of college sports,” and had moved to dismiss the suit in January.

In April, Judge Seeborg of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, granted the motion to dismiss, holding that Dawson’s suit was based on an unsustainable legal theory. Dawson filed an appeal soon after, arguing Judge Seeborg ignored applicable appellate case law and relied on cases that were drastically factually different then the circumstances set forth in his suit.


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