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AAU, Associations File Amicus Brief Arguing Student-Athletes Are Students, Not Employees

AAU joined the American Council on Education and 11 other higher education associations in submitting an amicus brief to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Johnson v. NCAA arguing that “intercollegiate athletics is not a business but rather a mosaic of programs that, at their core, enrich students’ educational experiences.” The brief urges the court to find that student-athletes in colleges are not employees, but students who receive a range of educational benefits from intercollegiate sport.

Filed in 2019 by a former Villanova University football player, Johnson v. NCAA seeks to determine whether NCAA Division 1 student-athletes in all sports at private and semi-public institutions should be considered employees of their college or university. The brief argues that “Each of the three branches of the federal government has long understood that intercollegiate athletics belong firmly in the domain of education and do not give rise to an employment relationship.” To make its case, the brief cites previous court decisions; executive branch guidance on the application of the Fair Labor Standards Act; and laws enacted by Congress, including Title IX protections for athletes.

Forcing universities and colleges to pay student-athletes, the brief notes, would inevitably lead to schools eliminating athletics teams, especially teams that don’t generate revenue. It would also transform intercollegiate athletics into a business where colleges would have to compete for professional athletes who would offer their services to the highest bidder and would have little incentive to participate in campus life or academics. The brief also highlights the many educational benefits intercollegiate athletics offer to student-athletes, including higher graduation rates; valuable lessons in teamwork, discipline, and sportsmanship; and opportunities to engage with the student community.

A decision from the 3rd Circuit is expected in the case later this year.

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