As Elijah Higgins sat on a witness stand this week, he detailed the similarities between his expertise final season as a rookie tight finish for the Arizona Cardinals and the 4 years he had spent enjoying soccer at Stanford College.

5 – 6 days every week at every stage of play, he was immersed in soccer actions: lifting weights, observe, movie research, bodily remedy and enjoying video games. There’s journey on constitution jets. Free tickets for buddies and family members. Sturdy teaching staffs setting guidelines.

There are some variations, Higgins allowed. Within the Nationwide Soccer League, there are not any courses to attend, although at Stanford, he mentioned, teachers took a again seat to soccer, which is why he nonetheless has just a few courses to take earlier than incomes his bachelor’s diploma in psychology.

The one different distinction is that, in distinction to Stanford, he now earns a paycheck. The minimal wage within the N.F.L. final season was $750,000.

Higgins mentioned that at Stanford, in an atmosphere the place vital pondering was inspired, he had begun to think about how cash drove what he known as the school soccer “system,” the place even at an elite college like Stanford, the pursuit of teachers was inspired solely as long as it didn’t intrude with soccer.

“I do agree with the truth that faculty soccer gamers are staff with out standing,” he mentioned.

Higgins was the final of about two dozen witnesses who had testified during the last 5 months in a National Labor Relations Board hearing that bears wide-ranging penalties for a slender query: Ought to soccer gamers, and basketball gamers, on the College of Southern California be categorized as staff?

The case is probably not determined for a lot of months. However it is going to nearly definitely find yourself in an appeals court docket, which is why there’s such a voluminous file: 3,040 pages of transcripts from 21 days of testimony, together with greater than 150 reveals.

The file is so monumental that Eleanor Legal guidelines, the presiding administrative legislation choose who will decide how the Nationwide Labor Act applies to these gamers, granted legal professionals an extra 9 weeks to file their closing written arguments, which is able to now be due by July 31.

The fees have been introduced by the N.L.R.B.’s common counsel on behalf of Ramogi Huma, the manager director of the Nationwide Faculty Gamers Affiliation, which advocates for school athletes’ rights. The defendants are U.S.C. together with the Pac-12 Convention and the N.C.A.A., which can need to classify athletes at member universities as staff despite the fact that the board has jurisdiction solely over personal establishments.

The testimony was usually dry, and the listening to, which closed on Thursday, drew little consideration as rafts of legal professionals — as many 16 at instances — haggled over picayune particulars of management and compensation and whether or not athletes had truly been given the usC. student-athlete handbook. (Although U.S.C. generated $212 million in athletic division income within the 2022-23 fiscal yr, that’s not related to the case, solely that there’s compensation and management.)

At instances, the elasticity of affordable arguments was examined.

For instance, Jacob Vogel, the usC. marching band director, spent greater than three hours discussing with boundless enthusiasm the intricate particulars of his program, together with how band members acquired dressed earlier than soccer video games.

The argument that enjoying soccer was little completely different from enjoying the tuba then got here underneath cross-examination from Amanda Laufer, the lead lawyer for the final counsel, who requested how lots of the 300 band members had no prior musical expertise.

“About 10 to fifteen,” Vogel mentioned.

“No additional questions,” Laufer mentioned, happy that she had supplied a distinction with the soccer crew.

The case is considered one of a number of fronts within the assault on the novice mannequin of school athletics. Emboldened state attorneys common have chipped away on the N.C.A.A.’s rule-making authority. Antitrust lawsuits that might power universities to pay out billions in damages are working their approach by the courts. And final month, the Dartmouth males’s basketball crew voted to unionize after successful the precise to be categorized as staff, a call the school is interesting.

The N.C.A.A. is on the lookout for reduction from Congress, however any hope for an antitrust exemption is unlikely to return till after the presidential election — if in any respect.

The arguments earlier than Choose Legal guidelines lay out contrasting visions of what faculty sports activities may appear to be if athletes have been staff.

One is apocalyptic. The opposite is sanguine.

Teresa Gould, the newly appointed commissioner of the Pac-12 Convention, which is shedding 10 of its member universities to different conferences by August, together with U.S.C., which is leaving for the Large Ten, testified that prime faculty soccer stars could possibly be topic to a draft. She additionally argued that poor play — say some extent guard who dedicated too many turnovers — may lead to not the participant’s being benched however to his or her being fired.

Sonja Stills, the commissioner of the Mid-Jap Athletic Convention, testified that her assortment of traditionally Black — and historically underfunded — faculties and universities “can’t afford paying out college students,” who in flip wouldn’t be capable to afford faculty if their scholarships have been taxed as revenue. She anticipated Olympic sports activities to be axed if cash needed to be redirected to athletes. Ladies’s sports activities is also imperiled, she mentioned.

And Anastasios Kaburakis, the founding father of an organization that helps worldwide athletes discover alternatives to play at American faculties, described what number of of these athletes could be shut out by having to acquire work visas in the US.

These cataclysmic assessments have been waved away by one other witness: Liam Anderson, a distance runner at Stanford, who characterised them as “concern mongering.” He mentioned that not each athlete ought to be thought of an worker and that universities would alter — a lot as they’ve as market forces have affected big-time faculty sports activities by so-called title, picture and likeness funds which might be usually made by booster-funded collectives.

And if faculty soccer gamers and gamers in males’s and ladies’s basketball could possibly be paid as staff?

“I’d have a good time that final result,” mentioned Anderson, who served two years as co-president of Stanford’s student-athlete advisory committee.

Anderson’s testimony was among the many extra compelling throughout the listening to, which came about in a convention room in a nondescript workplace constructing in West Los Angeles.

Anderson described staying on the similar Las Vegas lodge final yr throughout the N.C.A.A. event because the Arkansas males’s basketball crew. A safety guard instructed Anderson his job was to make sure that gamers didn’t depart their rooms — an indication of management that buttressed testimony from former U.S.C. soccer gamers, who mentioned that they had been required to examine in for meals with fingerprint scans and to textual content photographs to nameless attendance checkers to show they have been at school.

A loophole within the board’s byzantine guidelines allowed Anderson and Higgins, neither of whom attended U.S.C., to testify — even after the final counsel had exhausted its checklist of witnesses. As a result of the N.C.A.A. had known as upon athletes from different universities to testify, the final counsel was in a position to name rebuttal witnesses who additionally didn’t attend U.S.C.

Opposing legal professionals didn’t know who could be testifying till a witness took the stand, a process that protects witnesses in truthful labor instances from intimidation. This usually set off a flurry of pc searches by legal professionals with generally solely half-hour or so earlier than cross-examination.

Within the case of Anderson, that led to his being pressed by Daniel Nash, the lead lawyer for the Pac-12, to elucidate statements he had made in The Stanford Every day that have been at odds together with his testimony, together with an occasion by which he had known as the thought of paying faculty athletes an “apparent monetary impossibility” in a 2021 op-ed piece.

“My views on this have developed,” Anderson mentioned.

Lauren Herstik contributed reporting.

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