Since its founding, the N.C.A.A. has operated with a business model that defined the college athlete as an amateur. Over the years, as college sports evolved into a mega-enterprise, lawsuits and labor actions chipped away at that model, which came to be increasingly seen as exploitative in big-money sports like football and men’s basketball.

But the N.C.A.A.’s $2.8 billion settlement on Thursday night in a class-action antitrust lawsuit represents the heaviest blow — and perhaps a decisive one — to that system.

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