ATHLETICS | Union Bid Foreshadows Changes
Published: Friday, January 31, 2014
Updated: Friday, January 31, 2014 00:01
Members of the Northwestern football team took formal steps this week to begin the process of forming a players’ union for college athletes. Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, filed a petition to the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of the Wildcats’ football team Tuesday, according to ESPN’s “Outside the Lines”.
If the NLRB certifies the group, the College Athletes Players Association — backed by Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter and former University of Massachusetts basketball player Luke Bonner with support from the United Steelworkers — would be officially recognized by the federal government. The proposed CAPA would represent Division I football and basketball athletes at private universities, including Georgetown.
Current NCAA rules forbid college athletes from being paid for their athletic contributions. Instead, they are compensated with scholarships and living expenses.
If successful, the CAPA seeks to reverse the status quo by securing financial compensation for players. In addition, the union wants to be a part of NCAA decision-making on issues concerning the well-being of student-athletes, such as guaranteeing scholarships to players who were injured while playing.
In order for the union to be formed however, the NLRB must determine that collegiate athletes are employed by their respective universities. The NCAA has long held that those who participate in collegiate athletics are students, not employees. “Student-athletes are not employees,” NCAA Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy said in a statement. “This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education.”
Even if the NLRB rejects the unionization bid, some of the changes the Northwestern players want have a good chance of becoming reality. The implications of it are impossible to predict, but it doesn’t take too much imagination to see them touch Georgetown and its signature basketball program.
In an interview with The Hoya, Georgetown Athletic Director Lee Reed agreed that the student-athletes must have a greater role in NCAA decision-making.
“I think we need to do all we can — and I think that’s what the administrators are doing,” Reed said. “First, [we need] to really get the student-athletes more involved in the governance process. [Second,] I’m all for driving more dollars to their bottom line. ”While no Georgetown athlete has publically commented on the CAPA, the Athletic Department has taken a neutral stance on players’ involvement in the movement. Reed has doubts, however, whether Georgetown athletes will attempt to unionize.
“We wouldn’t encourage or discourage our student-athletes to pursue a union status,” Reed said. “We wouldn’t do either. But I do think our student-athletes think about the world just a little bit differently.” In a statement issued in response to the players’ attempt to unionize, Northwestern denied that student-athletes are employees. In the same statement however, the university also praised the team for initiative and emphasized players were not unhappy with the university, but rather the national system as a whole.
Reed echoed Northwestern’s sentiments. “My position on unions is this: This is what the incubator is all about,” Reed said. “It’s about being able to give our student-athletes what they need … so they can be really good at critical thinking and determine what is in their best interests.”
With billions of dollars in revenue generated by college athletics, the question of reasonable compensation has captured public attention. For Reed though, the debate is nothing new. “We are the only country in the world where we try to have amateur sport in a higher education context,” Reed said. “You can go back to the start of the NCAA … and there has always been tension between sport, amateurism and education. The reason it has been around so long is because everybody on both sides agrees that it is worth the tension to try and get it right.”