Big Money. College Athletes and the N.C.A.A.: A Timeline


The relationship between big money, college athletes, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (N.C.A.A.) has evolved significantly over the years. This timeline provides an overview of the key events that have shaped this complex dynamic.

1906: Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States is established, which later becomes the N.C.A.A., to protect young people from the dangerous and exploitative athletic practices of the time.

1950s: The N.C.A.A. starts granting scholarships that cover tuition and living expenses for student-athletes.

1973: The N.C.A.A. divides its membership into three divisions to distinguish levels of competition.

1984: The Supreme Court reduces the N.C.A.A.’s control over television contracts with the Board of Regents decision, allowing colleges to negotiate their own broadcasting deals, increasing revenue exponentially.

1990s: Conferences realign and television revenues increase dramatically. Colleges start to make substantial profits from athletics due to these lucrative TV contracts, but student-athletes still do not receive a share of the revenue.

2000s: Debate intensifies around whether athletes should be paid as colleges and coaches continue to reel in substantial sums from sports programs.

2014: Northwestern University’s football players attempt to unionize, raising questions about college athletes being recognized as university employees. This is followed by regional National Labor Relations Board ruling that players can unionize, but it’s overturned at the federal level.

2015: The N.C.A.A. agrees to settle a class-action lawsuit regarding the cost of attendance scholarships, which leads to schools being able not only to offer tuition but also cost-of-living stipends.

2019: California passes a law allowing college athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL), setting off a wave of other states following suit.

2021 (March): The Supreme Court hears arguments in NCAA v. Alston case about whether N.C.A.A. restrictions on education-related benefits for athletes violate antitrust laws.

2021 (June): The Supreme Court rules unanimously in NCAA v. Alston that the organization’s limits on education-related benefits for college athletes violate antitrust law.

2021 (July): The N.C.A.A. adopts a temporary policy suspending previous NIL rules for all incoming and current student-athots across all three divisions.

This timeline highlights not only the financial gains realized by institutions and regulating bodies in collegiate sports but also underscores the ongoing struggle of student-athletes for fair compensation and recognition under rapidly evolving conditions and increasing scrutiny directed at traditional governing sports models.


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