March 28, 2014

Fightin' Words: A right way and a wrong way to treat a college players union


Initially the ruling by the National Labor Relations Board over Northwestern football players' ability to unionize was, at first, the start of a ticking time bomb on college sports.

That's because the ultimate, I would call worst case, scenario for this is that college players, long anointed by adoring alumni and public as brave souls who make sacrifices solely for the glory and pride of their school, would become paid athletes on similar level as their professional counterparts.

But there's much more to the NLRB ruling than simple compensation. The wide view, which I for a long time have shared, is that players are "compensated" for their play with scholarship, leniency — some might say even idolatry — from the university administration, and the access of tutors to help make up for a bit of lost academic time.

According to the NLRB findings, that's not always the case. Their statement that some Northwestern football players had to dedicate 50 to 60 hours per week to football sheds light on a much less rosier picture into the way student athletes are treated. With billions of dollars in television deals now pouring into the NCAA and its athletic programs — of course mostly football and basketball — there's bound to be a change.

Over the years, college sports has gone from a pastime enjoyed by many to a full-time activity where success doesn't just bring pride, but increasingly more cash to a university. This means more money for administration, organizers, and head coaches, whose salaries at the high end reach into the millions per year.

Sure, some of that trickles down to athletes for scholarship purposes, but more pressure is passed on to athletes to up their game. This leads to less time in the classroom and an imbalance starts to take shape.

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