SBD/March 31, 2014/Colleges

Required Reading: Weighing Pros & Cons Of Northwestern Unionization Decision

Colter (l) has been the leader of Northwestern's unionization efforts
Reaction to last week's NLRB decision allowing of Northwestern football players to form a union continues to pour in from columnists and observers nationwide. In DC, Sally Jenkins wrote the notion that college athletes should play without financial compensation in exchange for a debt-free education is "not the stuff of revolution, despite the common-sense-defeating opinion" from NLRB Regional Dir Peter Sung Ohr. His 24-page decision "was a lot of senseless knee-jerkism." Former NU QB Kain Colter, who is leading the unionization efforts, and his peers "aren't laborers due compensation; they are highly privileged scholarship winners who get a lot of valuable stuff for free." College athletes "enroll at their institutions to mature," so whatever their "end goals, pro aspirations or workloads, they are no different from any other students in that respect." They are there to "develop emotionally, intellectually and physically, and that's all a school owes them, no matter how much revenue" they generate. It is "not true that defining them as labor would automatically be to their benefit -- that's an ideological assumption." It also is "not looking out for college athletes to open the Pandora's box of employment and unionization." The ruling "does nothing to solve the question of what to do about the fact that in some instances universities make huge profits off their athletes -- though not many, as most operate in the red." College athletics "sit extremely uneasily on our campuses; there’s no denying that." They are "an advanced course in legal, ethical problem solving," but "this isn't the remedy" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/30).

NOT ALL IT'S CRACKED UP TO BE: USA TODAY's Kevin Trahan writes the notion of unintended consequences "has been cited by many who question what might lie ahead for college athletics" in the wake of the ruling. Trahan: "What about taxes? What about Title IX? Won't this cost the players more money than it's worth?" (USA TODAY, 3/31). In Chicago, David Haugh wrote, "Be careful what you wish for, Kain Colter-ites." The NLRB's "surprising decision was as impractical as it was unnecessary." The College Athletes Players Association "addressed one issue but created countless others." Employees "pay state and federal taxes on their compensation," and for college football players declared employees, that "comes in the form of scholarships." Also, once the IRS "scours any new college football employer-employee model, Title IX lawyers can start threatening their lawsuits." What's more, in the system the NLRB endorsed, every injury to a player "becomes a potential workman's compensation claim" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/30). In Cincinnati, Paul Daugherty wrote college athletes "don't need to unionize," and they "don’t need to become 'employees' of their schools, any more than professors need to be on scholarship." If athletes "feel used, they need to return the favor, by taking advantage of every opportunity afforded them by the greedy folks who run the schools, and by the sports-mad society in which we live." Daugherty: "Should the NCAA allow athletes to earn money from sales of their likenesses and names? It should. But really, how many college athletes would benefit from that concession?" If you are NFL Draft prospect Johnny Manziel, "you're happy about that," but if you are "Johnny Benchwarmer, you couldn't care less" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 3/30).

SHOW THEM THE MONEY: In California, Jeff Miller wrote while people "once considered the notion blasphemous, we now say pay them to play." Miller: "Pay college’s basketball and football players. Pay them for producing highlights, memories and -- of particular note -- revenues. Pay them their slice of a pie that has swelled to the size of Pluto and become filthy in its decadence" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 3/30). In Chicago, Phil Rosenthal wrote, "Those who say they know exactly how unionization will or won't work in college sports are kidding themselves." There is "plenty of time to figure out the tax ramifications," and we "don't even know when or if we'll get the chance to find out." But what is "undeniable is the inherent unfairness that emboldened Northwestern's players to petition the NLRB." Something "has to be done to reconcile the inequities that led Winston & Strawn attorney Jeffrey Kessler to file a class-action antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA and major conferences on behalf of current and former athletes who don't grasp why the competitors are the only ones without a financial stake in the bonanza they create." Rosenthal: "Why should ballplayers be the only students on campus whose ability to make money through legal means is so severely restricted?" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/30). The Detroit Free Press' Mitch Albom said, "There is no way that they can be called students. ... The myth of the student-athlete is what was exposed here" (“The Sports Reporters,” ESPN, 3/30). The AP's Jim Litke: "When amateur sports were indeed amateur sports, most people involved in the enterprise were amateurs. Now, pretty much everything in college sports is professionalized except for the labor force. ... There is so much money involved now that the students are clearly entitled to something” (“OTL,” ESPN, 3/30).

A HARBINGER FOR CHANGE: In Columbus, Bob Hunter wrote as the sports seasons "grow longer and revenue increases, more people recognized that it isn't unreasonable for players to share in this bonanza, beyond a college scholarship that doesn't even pay the full cost of attending school." The unionization of players "might not be the answer, but that isn't the point." The approval of that concept by Ohr "likely will open the door for other rulings that expose the hypocrisy of the student-athlete model" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 3/30). In N.Y., Ebenezer Samuel wrote under the header, "It's Time For NBA, NFL To Develop Minor League Systems To Replace The NCAA." The answer to all the "major problems plaguing college sports is one major change: A minor league system." It is "time for the pros to start doing their own dirty work, cultivating their own players and brands." It is "time for colleges and universities to return their focus to education, not athletics" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/30).
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