The National Collegiate Athletic Association, also commonly referred to as the NCAA, is a non-profit organization that regulates over almost half a million individuals who compete in sports at the collegiate level. This organization spends most of its time protecting the rights of student- athletes by enforcing rules and regulations on a regular basis to ensure the student athletes are able to perform at the best of their ability. The term “student athlete” originated from the NCAA in the 1950’s after a case that dealt with the widow of collegiate football player Ray Dennison, who died from a head injury during a football game. Mrs. Dennison filed for workers compensation death benefits after the injury, arguing the case that Dennison was a worker for the university. While Mrs. Dennison ended up losing the case, the new term “student athlete” became a common phrase used for students participating in athletics. Collegiate athletes are not merely “students at play”, which might understate their athletic obligations and group them with the group of non- athletes who still participate in unorganized sports or club sports. Collegiate athletes are also not athletes in college, which might imply that they are professionals. “That they were high-performance athletes meant they could be forgiven for not meeting the academic standards of their peers; that they were students meant they did not have to be compensated, ever, for anything more than the cost of their studies” (Branch, Taylor).
A main issue that the NCAA deals with in protecting the rights of these student- athletes is to ensure that they perform at the amateur level and do not make mistakes like taking money from any coach or giving their signatures for money, which would label them as professional athletes. For example, former Texas A&M football star was suspended for several games for signing autographs and taking money for it. Another example of this was at Ohio State when the student athletes were trading their football championship rings and t-shirts for tattoos and other types of gifts. This also led to a suspension for the student athletes who were involved. These are two examples of the ways that the NCAA has tried to maintain student athletes at the collegiate level, and not let them wander into the professional level. The main reason that the NCAA puts so much work into ensuring that the student athletes are not considered professional athletes is because at the amateur level, the athletes are able to receive money in scholarships. In the professional world of sports, the money is given in the form of cash, and the factor of education is not there. Education is the primary purpose of college- although many athletes may have a conflicting opinion. As the NCAA states again and again, ninety-five percent of its athletes go professional in something other than sports. This is actually an interesting concept because as much as the NCAA would like to argue that all the athletes are attending college for nothing more than a degree, both the NFL and the NBA require its athletes to attend college for two years and one year, respectively. These professional associations require this of its athletes because too many athletes who try to come straight out of high school to the professional level are not able to adapt to the professional levels. Due to factors such as strength and fitness, the athletes who attempt to go straight into their professional athletic careers from high school either end up getting cut after a short time period or getting hurt. Although the NCAA would like to argue the fact that all of its student athletes are there for a strictly academic purpose, the NFL and the NBA are two separate associations that require the athletes to get bigger, faster, and stronger through the use of collegiate athletics. Clearly the NFL and the NBA are