Tom Farrey over at ESPN’s Outside the Lines reports what might be one of the biggest sports stories of the year:
Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, filed a petition in Chicago on behalf of football players at Northwestern University, submitting the form at the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board.
Backed by the United Steelworkers union, Huma also filed union cards signed by an undisclosed number of Northwestern players with the NLRB — the federal statutory body that recognizes groups that seek collective bargaining rights.
Now, of course, this could fall through.
But the status quo, for college football players, is clearly unacceptable, iff’n you ask me (not that you did).
Their insurance coverage for catastrophic, career-ending injuries is deplorably low. Although some states, such as California, have taken steps to ensure that scholarships must come with injury protection, this is still only on a state-by-state basis and the coverage is hardly universal and arguably unfair.
Scholarships, which are clearly contracts to my way of thinking, are offered on verbal terms that aren’t always clear to the athletes. Barring the ability to make a living off of their talents (even to the extent of actually prohibiting athletes receiving full financial support for their lives in school, while they’re playing!) it is vanishingly unlikely that your average incoming athlete has access to the legal resources to properly evaluate the deals they sign, with predictable results in predictable patterns.
The counter-argument, that athletes are already paid, lacks the nuance that the compensation(s) that athletes receive from universities are heavily skewed towards, “We will pay for these things that make you more likely to be able to perform in an exemplary fashion on the field for us, this year” and notably lacking in the “We will pay for these things that make you, average collegiate athlete, more likely to achieve long term financial success.”
(I’ll note the strange disparity in that article, in that the author talks about the non-monetary compensation that players get from their schools, rightly calling this their total compensation package… but when he talks about the downsides of playing players (i.e., bidding wars), he’s only talking about the actually filthy lucre payouts… and when he talks about the end-game, he talks about ‘benefiting college sports’ as opposed to ‘benefiting college athletes’)
Regardless, union representation for college athletes doesn’t necessarily mean the end-game is a free-wheeling free market for college football talent.
It means that there is an organized representative sitting at the seat of NCAA deliberations. Possibly on matters such as how the bowl games work, which is currently a negotiation between the conferences and the bowl system. It will create, preemptively, a collective that will butt its nose into ongoing NCAA deliberations of how compensation for student-athletes is structured.
Whether that’s better or worse than the status quo, well, we can hash that out in the comments.
(AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams, deceased, rest in peace, Henny)(Credit: AP)