Admit it, you fans of college sports: How many times have you heard the term, “student-athlete” and laughed?
Oh, come now. You snickered, at least, and you know it.
As applied to NCAA Division 1 football and men’s basketball, the concept of the student-athlete is precious, antiquated and deceptive. The players are first and foremost athletes who compete in a multibillion-dollar enterprise.
With a $10.8 billion TV contract, the NCAA “March Madness” basketball tournament is one of the most lucrative sports deals in the world for its beneficiaries: the collages and universities that comprise the NCAA.
Yet the players — whose college experience revolves around training, playing and competing to get into the tourney — earn virtually nothing from that enormous contract, other than a college education the best players abandon after two semesters. In pursuit of a payoff they cannot enjoy in college, the “one-and-dones” are merely free agents passing through colleges on their way to the real show. And the real money.
It’s almost as if colleges and universities were inviting the stunning ruling by the regional director for the National Labor Relations Board, who affirmed that football players at Northwestern University have the right to unionize.
Anticipate appeals and lawsuits galore. But as it stands now, Northwestern University football players can organize a union, collectively bargain with college officials for a portion of their program’s revenue, and go on strike if negotiations falter.
A strike. Or, for that matter, a “management” lockout. Ponder, all you Northwestern Wildcats fans, the resulting spectacle: replacement players wearing the purple and white going up against those Wolverines in the Big House. How much might you pay to not see that happen?
The very thought of it violates classic notions of students exchanging their expertise on the field for a valuable education. Exchanging athleticism for four unforgettable years of college life.
To that, labor negotiators and union organizers would observe that universities abandoned those ancient, leafy notions of “student athletes” when they began signing billion-dollar TV deals and started frantically reorganizing into ever-expanding super conferences. All in pursuit of more revenue.
It can scarcely come as a shock to university officials that their athletes might at last find support for getting a piece of that pie.
This NLRB decision is a stunner, all right. It well may mark the end of college athletics as we know them.
Or, it might simply mean that wealthy organizations end up paying their employees fairly. Sometimes, after all, that is what forming into unions can do.
— LIVINGSTON DAILY PRESS & ARGUS