Resolved: NCAA student athletes ought to be recognized as employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

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Resolved: NCAA student athletes ought to be recognized as employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

I cannot even begin to express how terrible this topic is. With everything that could possibly be debated, THIS is the topic that is picked? Seriously? Let’s put aside for a second that this topic is nearly impossible to actually debate. On simple merit alone, this topic should fall to the bottom of the list. Regardless, we’re stuck with what we’re stuck, so let’s try to make gold out of straw.

Definitions

NCAA Student Athletes – This is pretty simple. Any athlete that plays a sport for a team that’s part of the NCAA qualifies under this definition. I suppose the intent here is to remove intramural sports from the debate. If you go to the NCAA website, you can find a complete listing of sports there.

Ought to be recognized – The most important word here is “ought.” The recognition is really just a matter of legal distinction. For something to be recognized under any part of the law means for it to be defined as such under that law. Your framework is going to rest on the word “ought.” You’ll need to actually read the FLSA, along with the court opinions that have already held the resolution as false, and figure out a legal argument.

Employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act – Here’s where we really fall into the muck. Because the resolution has made this specification, you must create a legal argument in order to have any impact. You have to actually argue that the definition under this law means that NCAA athletes qualify as employees. This document from the U.S. Department of Labor is a good place to start when determining how you’re going to approach this. Keep in mind that saying things like, “NCAA athletes should get paid,” proves nothing here. It doesn’t matter what should or should not happen morally, but rather what the law says. Saying prostitutes should get paid for their work, for example, is way different from saying that prostitutes should legally be considered employees under the law.

Some important things to note:

  1. Every major court decision on this case has decided that these athletes do not qualify as employees, so the PRO will have an uphill battle.
  2. No court decision has ever developed a definitive test to determine if someone is considered an employee when it comes to athletes, nor does the FLSA have a specific definition. There are three tests in U.S. jurisprudence, but various court decisions have ruled them irrelevant or inadequate in scope. Anything you’re going to find will be vague and open to interpretation, which I suspect is why all these schools think that high school students will be capable of arguing against the opinions of federal court judges, but whatever.
  3. The resolution does not specify who the employer is. Is the employer the NCAA, the school, or the actual team? The arguments for all of them are actually quite different, and this lack of specificity leaves a lot of room for nonsense.
  4. The implications are irrelevant. If these athletes are considered employees, then they will be entitled to minimum wage, compensation, and other legal remedies. None of this, however, matters to the argument, so don’t get bogged down in it. You are answering the question of whether or not the law defines these folks as employees. The consequences of such definition do not matter.

Frameworks

So, the frameworks are actually going to be pretty limited here, because they have to be framed in the law around the FLSA. Let’s do the best we can.

PRO

1. Economic Dependence – NCAA athletes can often be said to be entirely economically dependent on the business that is NCAA sports. The revenue that these sports generate is crucial to student athletes being able to attend school and attain the scholarship and education which can be said to be their compensation. Not only that, the terms of their labor are determined by the organization. Unlike other extracurricular activities, which are generally governed by the students themselves, athletic associations are governed by the larger body that is the NCAA and the teams themselves. The management structure and economic realities of NCAA sports creates clear economic dependence.

CON

1. The Law is Clear – U.S. jurisprudence has determined over the course of many years that these athletes do not classify as employees. Amateur sports have a long history, and athletes clearly compete in these sports for reasons that have nothing to do with compensation or necessity. Not only that, participation in these sports is completely voluntary. These athletes are under no obligation to continue their participation if they choose not to. No matter how you slice it, there’s no real way to argue that the FLSA could possibly define any student athlete as an employee.

Hope that helps. Good luck! And don’t forget to check out the The Debate Academy if you’re looking for some extra help!

 

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