SBD/April 8, 2014/Colleges

Most Pundits Not In Favor Of College Athletes Unionizing, But Agree Changes Are Coming

The ruling by NLRB Regional Dir Peter Sung Ohr that Northwestern scholarship football players are employees "could make him one of the most influential figures in football history," according to a special for the WASHINGTON POST by L.A.-based sports management firm Yee & Dubin Sports Partner Don Yee. Ohr's decision could not only "prompt reforms within the NCAA and spur new football business initiatives from wealthy entrepreneurs, but most important, it could give college-age players more choices as they begin their careers in football." Yee, who reps Patriots QB Tom Brady among others, wrote, "I’ve had an up-close view of the college football moneymaking machine, and I’ve heard many sad stories of athletes being betrayed by coaches and universities in the NCAA system." The NLRB decision "was inevitable and foreseeable." Yee: "So what does the 2020 college-age football world look like for that highly decorated high school senior?" A group of rich and ambitious innovators such as Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban "has the ability to create a new league, stocked with talent between the ages of 18 and 20." It can give these players "free-market salaries and even offer them educations through partnerships with colleges or vocational schools." This new league "could be televised on any number of cable channels hungry for fresh content or streamed online." Another option for the '20 high school star "is playing for pay in a new NFL developmental league." Ohr’s decision in the NU case "could change the lives of the next generation of football stars." Every previous sports business "similar to the NCAA model has died." Yee: "Oppression can only last so long. The NCAA is about to find this out" (WASHINGTON POST, 4/5).

COMING INTO FOCUS: In K.C., Sam Mellinger wrote faith in college sports' leadership "has never been lower," so it would be "a mistake for athletes at Northwestern or anywhere else to unionize." The first step "in any change should be adopting the so-called Olympic model" (K.C. STAR, 4/5). In Boston, Bob Ryan wrote college sports are "part of the fabric of American sports consciousness." Ryan: "We want it, but at what cost? Under what parameters?" The truth is this "is a national dialogue we've never really had." The real issue is that the NCAA "has had more than 50 years to address various important matters related to the idea of participation in college athletics and it has failed to do so." Unionizing "is absurd," because it brings with it "myriad issues that would make college sports impossible to function." But the "good thing" about Ohr's ruling is that it "has shone a light on the untenable process we now have." The NCAA "now must pay attention" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/6).

CHANGE IS INEVITABLE: A DESERET NEWS editorial stated it is "true the NCAA has done a poor job of confronting issues the athletes encounter, most notably having to do with injuries." Perhaps some settlement "could be negotiated providing health care or better equipment." But "allowing collective bargaining by football players at private universities presents a host of complicated issues, not the least of which are Title IX issues involving gender equality" (DESERET NEWS, 4/7). Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt said, "I believe you have to recognize that things are going to look different in the future than they do today. But with that being said, I adamantly disagree with anyone who believes that student-athletes are employees. Student-athletes are not employees" (Lubbock AVALANCHE-JOURNAL, 4/6). In Chicago, Rick Telander wrote the labor movement "isn't going away and will change college sports forever" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 4/7). Bulls F Taj Gibson: "I'm all for college players being paid because the universities are making millions and the kids sometimes don't even have enough money to eat. It's not right at all" (, 4/6). 
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