Given that colleges and universities pretty much operate as the minor league for professional football and basketball. Given that big time sports programs are big time money earners for the schools that run them. Given that a lot of those “student-athletes” are as likely as not to be athletes rather than students. And given that the great majority of college players will never make it to the pros but will, in fact, be exploited as the supporting cast for those who do become professionals, I actually think that college football and basketball players should be paid. Especially since so many of them really don’t get much by way of an education. (C.f., University of North Carolina.)
Personally, I also think they should get a bona fide education while they’re at it, but that’s a blog post for another day.
It should at minimum be one or the other.
Anyway, given all of the above, I think that students who are, at minimum, semi-pros, should have a little walkin’ around money in their pockets.
Thus I was very interested in this week’s National Labor Relations Board ruling that, at least at Northwestern, athletes, at least football players on scholarship, are, in fact, employees of the university and can unionize.
This must have the NCAA quaking in its football cleats.
The "employee" distinction is a landmark one because it contradicts the NCAA's longtime stance that athletes are students and amateur athletes, and should not be compensated beyond their scholarships. The NCAA could not immediately be reached for comment. (Source: WSJ Online.)
Northwestern’s none too happy, either.
Northwestern plans to appeal the decision to the NLRB's national office in Washington by the April 9 deadline, school officials said.
In a statement, NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said: "We strongly disagree with the notion that student-athletes are employees. We frequently hear from student-athletes, across all sports, that they participate to enhance their overall college experience and for the love of their sport, not to be paid."
I suspect that the NFL and the NBA aren’t exactly delighted, either. After all, if their football and basketball programs become less lucrative, and it dons on them that they’re subsidizing the professional leagues, well then, it would be natural for those football and basketball programs to turn to the professional leagues for $upport. (Baseball and hockey pay for their own minor leagues, thank you.)
It’s actually kind of funny that this is coming from a school like Northwestern, which is not exactly a football factory. Sure, they off and on have decent teams, but the school is primarily a school, and a good one. (Disclosure: my sister Trish is an NU grad.)
I suspect that most of the student-athletes at Northwestern are primarily students rather than faux student athletes.
In fact, in the last stats published, the Wildcat football program had the highest graduation rate (97%) of all the bowl-eligible (i.e., big-time football) schools.
As the NCAA takes pains to point out in its advertising, most of those who play college sports go pro in something other than a sport.
This is so very true.
But someone who rowed crew, or played tennis, or swam, at State U probably did get an education while there. For many of the football and basketball players, that’s not the case.
They’re no more ready to go pro in something other than their sport than I am to play a sport professionally (or amateurly, for that matter). Many are barely literate. They “take” puff, no-show courses that neither prepare them for the workplace, nor to take their place among the ranks of liberally-educated thinkers. They’re ready for nothing, other than going back home and licking their wounds, uneducated, degree-less, and not making the big bucks or basking in the bling glory, that they had hoped for.
Many of the major football programs are a complete and utter disgrace.
So I really wish that the unionizing effort had come from one of the football factories, rather than from a place where the football players major in econ and end up getting their MBA – and getting on with their lives.
But, of course, the kids at Northwestern are likely a lot brighter than the average collegiate football player. So they went for it.
Good for them.
I hope that their union stands. I hope they negotiate a good deal for themselves. And I hope that the movement spreads to the schools where the athletes could really use it.
Solidarność! Workers of the world, unite. Go, Wobblies!