Right To Play

Football players at the Big Ten University Northwestern are taking steps to launch, for the first time in history, a labor union for college athletes.  College athletics is a growing business worth billions of dollars to the higher education institutions that sponsor these activities.  It was just a matter of time until either the athletes, current or former, would come up with the idea that they wanted, and needed, a larger voice in the activities in which they participate.  Let’s face it, the billions being made are being made on the backs of these young men and women.

From the article:

Backed by the United Steelworkers union, Huma also filed union cards signed by an undisclosed number of Northwestern players with the NLRB — the federal statutory body that recognizes groups that seek collective bargaining rights.

“This is about finally giving college athletes a seat at the table,” said Huma, a former UCLA linebacker who created the NCPA as an advocacy group in 2001. “Athletes deserve an equal voice when it comes to their physical, academic and financial protections…

“The action we’re taking isn’t because of any mistreatment by Northwestern,” Colter said. “We love Northwestern. The school is just playing by the rules of their governing body, the NCAA. We’re interested in trying to help all players — at USC, Stanford, Oklahoma State, everywhere. It’s about protecting them and future generations to come.

“Right now the NCAA is like a dictatorship. No one represents us in negotiations. The only way things are going to change is if players have a union.”

Sounds very legitimate.  This is a very hard topic for me to argue for – I hate Unions!  With a passion and fire of a thousand suns.  I see absolutely no use for labor unions in today’s society.  That being said, I think are strong arguments on both sides of this fight. Here are some thoughts I have about the Unionization of College Athletics:

1. Universities continue to empire build on the blood, sweat, talent, brand, and hard work of these athletes.   It’s time that the athletes get a piece of this pie.  Yes, I know they get a scholarship and free education.  Yes, I know what that means for lifetime earnings.  We’re talking about billions of dollars per year.

2. Only a few sports, in a few schools actually make money, and that money is usually used to fund all the other athletic teams.  No, Volleyball, Baseball, Tennis, Golf, Wrestling, Swimming, etc. are not revenue generating sports.  It take big time Football and Basketball in college athletics to make money.  Unionizing College Athletes, could actually hurt more people than it helps.

3. The NCAA has a monopoly on major college athletics and I would love to see it broken up.  Unionization might be the first step to that.

4. We shouldn’t need Unions to keep college athletes safe.  That should be the universities responsibility over all else.  Aren’t these athletes students first?

5.  Players want an equal voice in Academics?  I’m sure that’s what they were thinking when they used that athletic waiver to get into the school they couldn’t have if it wasn’t for athletics.

6. Players want financial protections.  Isn’t that what they are getting by getting an education?  The ability to make a living outside of their physical attributes?

I always say that I see no use for Unions in today’s society, with one small caveat, if there isn’t legitimate competition and that group is then being taken advantage of.  The problem is we aren’t really talking about ‘college athletics’, we are talking about major college Football and Basketball.  No one cares that the rower at Cornell isn’t getting extra payments for the big win last weekend.  With no competition, the NCAA has put their member schools in a precarious position of making unionization a real threat.

2 thoughts on “Right To Play

  1. I firmly believe that student athletes need a voice in how they are treated by the universities and the NCAA but not sure if unions are the way to go. it will definitely change the definition of “employee” under NLRA/NLRB. One thing not being talked about is how this may affect non-revenue sports and/or non Division 1 schools. Would a class action law suit might be a better way to go?

    • John,

      I agree. Labeling student athletes as ’employees’ will also have tax consequences on a ton of stuff they get. Can you imagine what a student athlete would say at tax time when the government wants them to now pay up!

      For me the better option here is to have the respective professional sports leagues to finally develop a true minor league system for the those kids who really don’t want to be a student athlete. Primarily we are going through all of this because the NFL and NBA don’t want to give up their ‘no cost’ minor league system – colleges!


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