Press Box Perspective: The die is cast

Dec: The Northwestern University Union, its origins and implications.

By Peter Melling /// Staff Writer

The holes have started to emerge in the cracked façade of the NCAA. In an unprecedented move in college athletics, a group of football players from Northwestern University have attempted to form a union and become recognized as school employees with all the benefits that such a position entails. The National Labor Relations Board has ruled in favor of the union, but it still faces opposition from Northwestern University administration and the NCAA. What has led to this maneuver by the players, and how will it work out?

How did we get here?

The players’ union originates in a series of several incidents that have blown holes in the NCAA’s perceived image of supporting student athletes. The controversy surrounding Johnny Manziel receiving money for autographs (for which the NCAA handed him a slap on the wrist), the selling of merchandise with current students’ names (which the NCAA had to stop after exposure on Twitter) and several incidents of student athletes discussing the financial problems they have concerning their athletic scholarship and school employment (a recent incident being Shabazz Napier saying that he often can’t afford food and the NCAA’s promise of unlimited food for athletes). The popular conception of the NCAA and its members is that they exploit their athletes, making millions off of their players’ images without providing adequate compensation. This is especially erroneous, as a recent study by Drexel University revealed that the average college football player’s market value is around $178,000 (with stars like Johnny Manziel reaching $547,000) and that the average college basketball player is worth around $375,000. With figures like these, would it not be obvious to pay athletes and give them benefits like other school employees?

Why won’t the university and the NCAA allow the labor group?

It’s because these organizations realize the power of this event. If one union is allowed at a Division-I university, what is there to stop other unions of football and basketball players from forming their own labor groups and receiving school compensation? Will they stop at simple student compensation, or will the unions pursue money akin to that of the professional leagues? Would that impact any other parts of school budgets, possible producing budget cuts in education and extracurricular clubs and significant tuition increases? Would the college be forced to pay compensation for any life-threatening injuries that happen to the players? Will there be D-III athletes forming unions? While many of the items listed above will probably not happen, the NCAA and the universities are rightly fearful of the movement that the Northwestern University Union could start.

Unfortunately for the union, it will probably be thrown out by the NCAA and Northwestern University. The threat of an actual labor organization fighting for the financial rights of college athletes is too great for the NCAA and its members. However, this is a small step in the right direction for student athletes. The threat of another union forming and the publicity disasters that have rocked the NCAA and their widespread media coverage will give athletes leverage in labor negotiations, eventually granting them the compensation that they have deserved for so long. The union is not the solution to the NCAA’s problems, but rather a sign of the gradual decay of college athletics’ status quo.

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