Student Athletes Seeking Unionization

On March 5, 2014, in Sporting News, by admin

NCAAMarc Emmert and the NCAA Commissioner’s office are in for yet another test.  First the controversy over the fines and penalties handed down after the Sandusky scandals at Penn State followed by the big mess down in Miami and the Shapiro excesses. Emmert’s office has been called to task repeatedly over one thing or another since he took over the NCAA in 2010.

Recently, up in Evanston, Illinois, at Northwestern University, student athletes have begun petitioning collective bargaining rights. They want a union. They want to get paid. Well, doesn’t everybody?

The arguments before the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago will center on whether student athletes who receive a free education have the right to collectively bargain their working conditions. The first step will be to get the NLRB to recognize the Northwestern athletes as a union. That could take awhile.

However it comes out, the Northwestern case will have a major impact of NCAA athletics.  Some are even comparing it to the Curt Flood case of 40 years ago against Major League Baseball. The case eventually ended up in the US Supreme Court where Mr. Flood lost but as a result of the Flood case we now have what is known as ‘free agency’ among professional athletes in the USA.

Spearheading the effort to unionize at Northwestern is Kain Colter who is the former quarterback of the football team where he was the leader of a program that takes great pride in doing things ‘the right way’. He brings up the long standing argument that either a free scholarship is enough in return for a player’s services on the playing field or student athletes being exploited for those services.

It is worth noting that Northwestern is a private institution.  Unionizing the public ones will be quite another undertaking. The football team at Northwestern is exceptional in that they boast a 97% graduation rate among their players. Note also that a year at the Evanston campus costs around $63,000 per year, quite a bit more than the state run colleges.

Proponents of the union idea point out that the NCAA backs itself into a corner for a lively debate when they contend that education is integral to the athletic experience.

Kain Colter says that he first got the idea for the union right there on his college campus when the professor of his “Contemporary Issues in the Modern Workplace” class commented to him, “I can’t believe college athletes don’t have a union with as much money as you guys bring in.”


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