NCAA settlement could mean 6-figure paychecks for top college players

Thousands of student athletes — both past and present — are in line to receive their share of a $2.8 billion settlement resolving an antitrust lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the nation’s five biggest conferences. The challenge now will be deciding how much each player gets and why.

The complaint, filed in Northern California in 2020 by former Arizona State swimmer Grant House and Sedona Prince, a former Oregon and current Texas Christian University basketball player, accused the NCAA, along with the five wealthiest conferences, of improperly barring athletes from earning endorsement money based on their name, image and likenesses, or NILs. 

The finer details still need to be ironed out, but the NCAA’s agreement calls for the league and conferences to pay $2.77 billion over 10 years to more than 14,000 former and current college athletes who claim that the now-defunct compensation rules prevented them from earning money from endorsement and sponsorship deals dating back to 2016. 

The deal must still be approved by the federal judge overseeing the case and challenges could arise. But if the agreement stands, it will mark the beginning of a new era in college sports where players are compensated more like professionals and schools can compete for talent using direct payments.

The NCAA can go one of two ways: either pass a portion of the funds to colleges across the nation and have someone on campus determine the size of the payouts, or hire an outside entity charged with carrying out the logistics, said Tim Derdenger, who teaches sports marketing professor Carnegie Mellon University. In the latter case, the NCAA will have to decide whether all the athletes should receive the same amount of money or if some will get more than others because of how well they played, experts said. 

“If the funds go to the university, I can see just every player getting one lump sum,” Derdenger said. “Is that merit-based or market-based? Absolutely not. But I’m an economist so I would allocate these funds based upon their success during competition.”

The NCAA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. 

If individual payout amounts are determined by other measurements, college basketball and football players will most likely get the lion’s share of the settlement, experts told CBS MoneyWatch. That’s because basketball and football games tend to generate the most revenue for a university’s athletic department. And that scenario, star quarterbacks or starting point guards would see the biggest payday, Derdenger said.

“I can definitely see someone like Caleb Williams getting a $100,000 check, if not more,” he said, referring to the University of Southern California quarterback who was recently drafted to the NFL. 

Members of a school’s golf, field hockey, lacrosse, soccer and volleyball teams will get payments too, but they likely will not be in the six figures because those sports don’t generate revenue, Derdenger said.  

The NCAA should take a page out of European soccer’s book and adopt a payment formula that combines players getting an equal share with rewarding those who play the most popular sports, said Patrick Rishe, a sports business professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

“For example, the English Premiere League allocates 50% of its national media revenue to all teams evenly, but then 25% is allocated based on team performance and 25% is allocated based on popularity,” he said. “Perhaps a hybrid model based on a combination of equity, performance and popularity is the proper route.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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