Unionization Represents Step in Right Direction
Published: Friday, January 31, 2014
Updated: Friday, January 31, 2014 00:01
Historic steps have been taken at Northwestern this week, where — supported by the United Steelworkers Union and with the backing of National College Players Association President Ramogi Huma — Northwestern football players filed union cards. The move to join a labor union represents an unprecedented step by college athletes to seize control of their interests from the NCAA.
In the past, I have expressed my belief that, for the most part, college athletes are properly compensated for their work. Low revenue sports get preferential placement in classes, and many receive scholarships — often full rides for higher revenue sports like football and basketball. Many calling for athletes to get paid ignore the fact that many are effectively being paid tens of thousands of dollars for tuition. Those who argue this is insufficient compensation are ignoring the reality that prominent college athletes need the system that is in place to develop the skills necessary for the professional game.
I have reservations concerning fairness when it comes to basketball. It doesn’t seem right to force NBA-ready talents to spend a year in college before making money, but at the very least, they have the option to play professionally overseas for a season. I do not have these reservations when it comes to football, because players need college seasoning to survive in the NFL. No teenager is ready for the NFL; without college football, these players would never get the opportunity to have a profitable livelihood in the sport.
Having said all of this, I see no issue with college athletes unionizing, and the NCAA’s response to the actions at Northwestern does nothing to dissuade me. Furthermore, their remarks are hypocritical and cripple any shred of integrity the organization claims to hold. Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy stated that “this union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education.” The notion that the NCAA cares about student-athletes beyond their ability to increase the organization’s bottom line—let alone that they care about education—is almost insulting. If the NCAA really cared if football and basketball stars were receiving a quality education, then such large quantities of athletes at universities such as the University of North Carolina would not be reading at a third grade level.
Other NCAA protests — such as the technicalities of what constitutes an employee — also ring hollow. If they cared about the education rather than the money, the NCAA would not mind student athletes bargaining collectively over safety and compensation. The NCAA is afraid, of course, of losing a portion of their revenue share to athletes or risking the athletes striking altogether. Obviously such a potential conflict would not be ideal for the NCAA, but as a neutral party I say let the chips fall where they may. If student athletes — particularly those with the potential for a professional career — are willing to risk their future for their convictions, let them strike. If the NCAA truly believes that the current system is fair, let them prove it; let’s see if they will stand by their convictions when the revenue is threatened. Plenty of less-talented athletes would be willing to step in for the thrill of competing at the college level if the current student athletes strike.
I may feel that many student athletes are rewarded handsomely as is, but my stance is predicated on the reality that there is currently no system in place to quantify whether the NCAA or the student athletes are getting enough out of the current arrangement. I am a firm believer in capitalist principles, and as such, I support athletes receiving more compensation if it can be objectively determined that they deserve it. If the two sides in question were allowed to bargain on an equal footing, I believe the appropriate compromise might present itself. If the NCAA would rather pay athletes more money than let them strike, clearly student-athletes would be deserving of better compensation. What it all comes down to is trying to find the true value of those who participate in college sports—a union represents the best way to determine that.
Darius Majd is a junior in the College. THE SPORTING LIFE appears every Friday.