Colleges Will Start to Treat Student Athletes Better …. or else

Posted: March 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

It’s difficult to wrap my head around the idea of college athletes forming a labor union.  At least one man – a local director of the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago – believes they are employees, and has approved the formation of a union for Northwestern University football players.  Northwestern appealed to the national board. It is far from certain the athletes in Evanston will have their union.

What we have here are the early stages of the fight.  And it could be a long and nasty fight. The case in Chicago comes just days after it was reported that Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith received an $18,000 bonus when a Buckeyes wrestler won the national championship. Apparently, these kinds of clauses are not unusual these days. The court case comes weeks before Ed O’Bannon’s case against the NCAA for the athletes’ rights to their own image goes to court. 

The case comes at a time when we’re learning just how much money college coaches make. John Calipari reportedly got a $350,000 bonus when his Kentucky Wildcats won the NCAA men’s basketball tournament two years ago.  This on top of the millions of dollars he already earns in salary.  I’m all for people making money. I’m all for people using their market leverage.  But these kinds of financial windfalls are coming because student-athletes win games.  The same student-athletes would be in trouble if they sold autographs, or if they took a free meal, or the use of a car. 

This system is broken.  And the people who run the NCAA and its big-time and big-name members are just a tad bit concerned. (NCAA president Mark Emmert makes about $1.7 million dollars a year and says drastic changes would not be good to the system.)  

But, they’re happy to take the $7.3 billion in the new college football playoff TV deal; they’re delighted with the $10.8 billion dollar deal for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.  They’re happy to say that Johnny Manziel is reasonably compensated with his scholarship, while the school almost certainly has made hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, selling the Texas A&M Number 2 jersey, for which Manziel gets nothing. 

According to Forbes magazine the University of Texas football program’s profit in 2013 – that’s profit – was $82 million. For Notre Dame, it was $78 million. The rest of the top ten most valuable football programs in the country: Alabama, LSU, Michigan, Florida, Oklahoma, Georgia, Ohio State and Nebraska. 

Maybe the players aren’t “employees” and maybe they shouldn’t be paid. Or, maybe they should be paid, and be protected by at the very least an association.

Nick Saban makes $7.5 million dollars a year to coach 12 to 14 football games at the University of Alabama. The people he “oversees” get a scholarship and some meal money, and that’s it. Saban reportedly got a $525,000 bonus when his Crimson Tide won the national championship in 2012.  And even if he wanted to, the NCAA would prohibit him from sharing any of that money with the players. 

[To put this into perspective, Craig Bohl was making less than $300,000 a year when he led North Dakota State to three consecutive FCS championships.]

The players are starting to get fed up. Those of us who watch this are starting to get fed up. The arms race is almost out of control to get bigger programs; to get better facilities; to get better coaches; to make more money to pay for all of those better things. 

Northwestern’s football team got it started. I guarantee you no matter what happens with the school’s appeal to the National Labor Relations Board, this movement is just getting started.  

I can’t wait to watch it unfold. 



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