SBD/January 31, 2014/Colleges

Former Alabama QB A.J. McCarron Joins Call For NCAA Reform, Players' Union

McCarron said the NCAA in some ways was taking advantage of its athletes
Former Alabama QB A.J. McCarron said of the efforts by Northwestern players to unionize, "During some point in the future, college athletes should be paid." McCarron, appearing Wednesday on FS1's "Crowd Goes Wild" to discuss the movement, added, "The NCAA is not a bad organization, don't get me wrong, it's an unbelievable organization. But in some way they're taking advantage of college athletes that sign their name to a certain school." McCarron said the tens of millions being earned by schools through football is "absurd money," and for player jerseys "being sold and them not seeing any of that and then being used for video games, eventually something's got to give and players end up being paid" ("Crowd Goes Wild," FS1, 1/29). Seahawks TE Zach Miller, the team's NFLPA alternate rep, said that a "union in the college ranks would be beneficial." He added, "I get the players' point of view. I feel it would be good if they had the same kind of representation we have with the NFLPA." Broncos TE Joel Dreessen, who also serves as an alternate player rep, said, "Injuries can last a lifetime. There needs to be some type of protection for that" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 1/29). But former NFLer Joe Theismann said, "I don't think unionization is going to be as easy as people might think, to do for the college players. I think what the threat of unionization will do is it will force the NCAA to make changes in what they do for the athletes that participate" ("Fast Money Halftime Report," CNBC, 1/30). NFL agent Leigh Steinberg: "The system needs restructuring. At the very least, we need to be giving a stipend" ("Power Lunch," CNBC, 1/30).

CHANGE IS IMMINENT: CBSSPORTS.com's Dennis Dodd wrote college athletics "as we know them are about to change -- radically." If players "can get union cards, is it worth the NCAA even existing to negotiate with them?" Point being, it "isn't going to end with Northwestern." The movement "isn't going to die." This seems like "some larger Norma Rae moment" (CBSSPORTS.com, 1/29). In Tampa, Tom Jones noted the "hurdles of becoming unionized are high and many." But "don't dismiss this announcement." Jones: "This isn't a lark. Changes are coming." What is unclear is "just how significant the changes will be and whether or not they're a good thing." Jones: "My gut tells me this is the first step of a slippery slope that will end in the ultimate ruin of college sports as we know it" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 1/30). In Tulsa, John Klein wrote, "Regardless of what happens with the [National Labor Relations Board] ruling and any subsequent court cases, universities are going to have a hard time making the case to the public." That may have "a far larger impact long term on how the business of college athletics is conducted" (TULSA WORLD, 1/30).

STUDENTS OR EMPLOYEES? In Detroit, Drew Sharp wrote under the header, "College Athletes' Fight Not Equal To Unions, But Reform Needed." Universities "are making millions from new conference television deals." But "shouldn’t athletes first concede that they’ve already got it pretty good relative to other students?" They are "not indentured servants." And if they are "employees, shouldn’t they then lose some of the university protections they merit as a 'student-athlete?'" There are "privacy laws shielding much of their academic and personal conduct from public scrutiny because they’re students" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/30). In Jacksonville, Gene Frenette writes under the header, "Not A Perfect Union, But A Needed Step To Reform NCAA" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 1/31).

STEEL FRAMEWORK: In Chicago, Alejandra Cancino reported the Northwestern players have "turned to the United Steelworkers for help in forming a union." Labor experts said that the alignment "should give organized labor a huge image boost, especially among younger people and those who follow college sports" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/30). In Minneapolis, Kaszuba & Christensen wrote adding the United Steelworkers "almost surely will change the dynamics of the debate." Legal observers said that the union, with its "financial muscle, should probe to be a worthy adversary for the NCAA" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 1/30).

A VOICE TO BE HEARD: SI.com's Stewart Mandel wrote "this is the beginning of a protracted legal fight." But it is still "a potentially revolutionary, if largely symbolic, moment." Mandel: "Interestingly, most of the issues [NU QB Kain] Colter's proposed union says it's pressing for ... mirror those the major conferences were already hoping to address with their push for more NCAA legislative power." So it may be that "progress happens on those specific issues long before any resolution about unionization." But in the "bigger picture, Northwestern's players could still help drive home a larger point ... that athletes deserve a greater voice in a system in which they currently have none" (SI.com, 1/29). SI.com's Andy Staples wrote "regardless of whether the NLRB approves the players' request, this attempt at consolidation should be a fairly effective negotiating tactic for the ultimate goal -- a seat at the table -- if conference commissioners and school presidents have been paying attention" (SI.com, 1/29).
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