Lost in the discussion of the "unfairness of college athletic programs profiting on the back of the poor, abused athletes" is the irrefutable fact that the athletes economic value before being recruited to campus is near zero. Their value increases as they are recruited to and play for "big time jock university". Also lost is that the great majority of "big time jock university" players never develop an economic value that is equivalent to their college scholarship. For every Johnny Manziel there are dozens of Joe Averages who have full rides at their schools due, in great part, to a few of their teammates, the media, and the university and conference they have chosen to join.
The NCAA is the bad guy. Always has been. Always will be. Coaches and administrators are annoyed by its clunky rulebook. Fans hate it because it tries to prevent cheating and that, in turn, hurts their team’s chances of winning. Also, it’s viewed as the ultimate evil when it comes to keeping those poor souls known as college athletes in line.
For that reason, many have cheered the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit that wants the NCAA to have to pay a portion of licensing fees to athletes themselves. Many will likely hip-hip-hooray yesterday’s big news that college athletes are attempting to form a labor union — it would be called the College Athletes Players Association — which would result in them being recognized as employees.
ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” reported on Tuesday that Ramogi Huma — the president of CAPA — filed a petition on behalf of many Northwestern football players that would result in them seen as “employees” of the university.
The NCAA, quite naturally, responded by saying that the move “undermines the purpose of college: an education.” NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy added: “Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize… Student-athletes are not employees within any definition of the National Labor Relations Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act. We are confident the National Labor Relations Board will find in our favor, as there is no right to organize student-athletes.”
Those pushing for unionization are well motivated, too. “(The NCAA) fought us tooth and nail on the most basic of protections,” said Huma. “It didn’t matter how much money was coming in.” Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter reportedly requested civil conversations with the NCAA over issues such as medical care and player stipends. When the NCAA declined to chat, Colter got with Huma and now college players are taking matters to the court system.
Already SEC players are backing the movement (including several players from Georgia’s football team). Many fans will likely back the union movement with gusto simply because it’s an “anti-NCAA” thing. And after all, the players aren’t specifically asking for money. Not yet anyway.
The goals of what’s now being called the National College Players Association — it will become CAPA if/when it wins in court — include: guaranteed coverage for sports-related injuries for current and former players, improved graduation rates via an educational trust set up to help former players get their degrees, increased athletic scholarships and the right for players to receive money from commercial sponsorships, etc.
Well that doesn’t sound too bad. But a quick check of the group’s website makes it pretty clear that money is a key focus. Here’s the top story posted on the NCPA’s homepage today: “The $6 Billion Heist: Robbing College Athletes Under the Guise of Amateurism.”
Yeah, but this isn’t about money. It’s about an educational trust fund. Right.
Not to be harsh, but student-athletes choose to play football, basketball or any other sport. They are not drafted. They are not coerced. If they feel that an opportunity to get an education is not worth their time and effort then they can get a job like everyone else in America. Heartless? No, realistic. And without a college degree, finding a good job won’t be easy.
Colleges make big money off of their football teams. They make some money off of their men’s basketball teams. They make little or no money from any of the other athletic squads on their campuses. The biggest conferences — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC — are currently pushing the NCAA to allow their member institutions to kick a little cash back to their football players.
If those leagues are allowed by the NCAA to start giving full-cost-of-tuition scholarships or $2,000 stipends to football players, those leagues/schools will soon face cries from every group of athletes on their campuses claiming that they put in just as many hours and deserve just as much cash. Title IX will be brought up in the blink of an eye.
Money is going to change college football as we know it. First, the biggest conferences will create their own division within the NCAA. (We’ve been stating for years that it’ll be a new division in the NCAA and not a breakaway from the NCAA.) Players will get a taste of some money and then they will quickly demand more. If they have a union, that union will demand more. The union will also do what other sports unions do — fight like hell with the evil employer at every front.
A player gets suspended over a failed drug test? The union will appeal. A player is cut from a team for misbehaving off the field? The union will protest. A player is told he’s healthy enough to play? His union rep will tell him to sit until someone can provide a second opinion.
Unions aren’t bad things. Without unions we’d all be living in a Dickensian nightmare. But unions do change things. And if you’re a sports fan — reading this site suggests you are — you’d better prepare yourself for the changes that the unionization of athletes could bring.
College football has had the same basic structure for a century. The coach is the main man on campus and he makes the rules. Players get an education. They also receive athletic training that helps the most talented among them begin professional careers. Simple. Straight-forward.
Now toss in money and a union and that whole system will change. It’ll change for the better for the players financially. But it likely won’t change for the better for anyone else.
Which means you better think twice before cheering on this movement simply because it makes life miserable for the NCAA. In the end it could make life miserable for college football fans, too.