SBD/February 3, 2014/Colleges

College Unionization Efforts Generate Spirited Conversation On ESPN's "GameDay"

Unionization efforts could trigger a big change in the way college athletics operate
The Northwestern Univ. football players' efforts to form a union were discussed on ESPN's "College GameDay" on Saturday and resulted in a spirited debate between analysts Jay Bilas, Jalen Rose and Digger Phelps. Bilas began the discussion by saying he did not know whether forming a union "is the right step, but I think what it does is change the conversation." Bilas: "Let’s be honest about it, this is pro sports. There is no difference between the BCS Championship Game and the Super Bowl. The only difference is the players go to school the next day. These players are de facto employees." He added, "Nobody said they are mistreated. They are exploited, though, when you are making money to this extent. ... They should get more and they deserve more. And it’s wrong that they are the only people that are limited in this and everybody else gets fair market value.” ESPN's Jalen Rose said players "should get a stipend ... to eliminate a lot of the petty things you see happening." Rose: "That at least gives them some money to put in their pocket and they don’t have to do dumb things. … Top schools, top resources, they have the money to shell out." He added, "The bottom line is they do need a voice. They deserve a voice.” But Phelps said, "To me there is nothing wrong with the way it is working and the way it has worked. Okay, fine, if you want to give them a stipend, I understand it. But how high do we go with this stipend? That is the issue.” Bilas answered, “As high as you want.” Phelps: “Oh really? That is going to destroy the game. So, you’re going to pay some guy $200,000 cash?” Bilas: “Yes, because they are paying the coaches whatever they want. It’s a free market system.” Phelps: “Who cares about the coaches?” Bilas: “They say, ‘This is all about academics.’ No it’s not. This is about money" ("College GameDay," ESPN, 2/1).

MOMENT OF CHANGE? In N.Y., Joe Nocera wrote the effort to unionize could "wind up triggering a momentous change in the way big-time college athletics operates." National College Players Association President Ramogi Huma, who is aiding the NU players in their pursuit, said, "Players need to know that they will be taken care of if they are injured." He added, "It is terrifying to think of the damage concussions can do, and see the NCAA avoiding responsibility, while the NFLPA has been making progress. ... What we want is a seat at the table." Nocera wrote the question the NLRB "will have to grapple with is whether college athletes meet the criteria required to be labeled as employees" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/1). In Oklahoma, John Hoover noted Tulsa AD Derrick Gragg "strongly supports student-athlete well-being, but classifying students as employees either isn't legally possible, or will transform college sports into a lesser version of pro sports." Gragg indicated that the NCPA's efforts "may be inherently flawed." Gragg: "It's very problematic in regards to gender equality and Title IX. Just on the face, when I saw that piece that only football and men's basketball players would even be allowed to join the organization, just from a legal standpoint and federal law, that's very problematic" (TULSA WORLD, 2/1).

HIGHER LEARNING: In Denver, Terry Frei writes college athletes "already are handsomely paid for being part of the revenue machine." The compensation "is called 'a scholarship.'" Frei: "Even if you buy into the argument that athletes should get additional stipends of some sort ... You have to tell me how you'd do it fairly, in a realistic system that works and would pass legal muster." Should colleges "pay only fooball and men's basketball players, because those are 'revenue' sports?" Brace for lawsuits "from advocates of women's sports and 'nonrevenue' men's sports," and that is "if it passes federal scrutiny to get that far" (DENVER POST, 2/3).
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