The Impact of Player Unions on College Athletics
College athletics is a lucrative industry, with the NCAA generating over $872 million in revenues in 2012 alone. The student-athletes who make this possible sacrifice their time and bodies to play sports in exchange for a free education, which is a valuable opportunity in today’s world where college costs are on the rise and many are priced out of attending college without taking on massive debt.
The Exploitation of College Athletes
However, the current system of college athletics often exploits these student-athletes, who are asked to commit a significant amount of their time and energy to their sport without receiving any financial compensation. As someone who played football at Northwestern in the mid-90s, I can attest to the demands placed on college football players. My former teammate and Northwestern quarterback, Kain Colter, who led the charge to allow players to unionize, said he spent around 50 hours a week on football, more time than he spent on his studies. He had to change his major from pre-med because he didn’t have the time to study, and he couldn’t take certain classes because they interfered with football practice.
When I played, football always came first, and if you wanted to keep your scholarship, you did what the coaches told you. I remember being threatened with losing my scholarship if I didn’t perform well after injuring myself during a weightlifting session. This experience made me realize that no athletic scholarship is guaranteed.
The Potential for Unionization
The recent ruling by the regional director for the National Labor Relations Board, Peter Sung Ohr, that college athletes at private universities are university employees and have the right to unionize could change the face of college athletics. This ruling is in response to the demand for guaranteed four-year scholarships, which is something that Kain Colter and other college athletes have been advocating for. The cost of unionizing college athletes would be significant for both the NCAA and universities, as players could go on strike or demand “pay for play,” which some smaller universities may not be able to afford.
Former Missouri wide receiver T.J. Moe brought up some valid points on Twitter about the potential consequences of this ruling. If college athletes are considered employees, they could be fired for being late to practice, locked out of campus buildings during a strike, and have their scholarship taxed as income. He also noted that while unionization may not be the best option, student-athletes need a system to help them address the issues affecting them.
The Future of College Athletics
The impact of this ruling is still uncertain, but if student-athletes are given more control over their time and bodies, it will inevitably change the way college athletics are run. While this may be a positive change for the athletes, it remains to be seen if it will benefit fans. There are concerns that universities may choose to do away with their football programs as a result of this ruling, but this is a highly unlikely scenario. Ultimately, this ruling will give football players a voice and the power to address the issues they face, which is a step in the right direction.