This column was written by the Whitetopper’s sports editor Evan Williamson and was published in the April 3, 2014 issue of the paper.
Last week the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Chicago ruled in favor of the Northwestern University football players to form a union against the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
The NLRB stated that NCAA athletes are “employees” of the NCAA and that since players do not receive class credit for playing football, but are rather valued for their performance on the field with an annual scholarship, then they can in fact form a union.
This decision by the NLRB is monumental in the fact that this marks the first time in history that there has been advancement by players, former or current, against the widely considered corruptness of the NCAA.
The College Athletes Players Association, led by players such as former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, is calling for additional health incentives for athletics, i.e. medical bills and other medical facets, as well as financial benefits for being a student-athlete.
While this case will probably not be decided for years to come as many expect it to make its way all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, whatever the ruling may be will have a substantial impact on the future of collegiate athletics.
Personally, I played four years of college football at Emory & Henry College, an NCAA Division III program that does not offer athletic scholarships like Division I, I-AA, and II program do; my money is based off academic merit.
As a follower of college football and a former player, it is hard for me to agree with the idea of what the Northwestern case may bring about in amateur athletics. Let me say those two words one more time—amateur athletics. I feel that the term student-athlete could potentially become extinct.
This case opens up too many doors within athletics, and if people think things are unfair now wait and see if this agenda follows through. Gentry Estes, a Georgia Bulldog beat writer for 247Sports, stated that as an employee and member of a union, technically these players have the right to sign contracts, have insurance, free agency, go on strike, etc. Also, employee means professional and not an amateur.
“Hey, I think college athletes should be paid,” Estes tweeted out. “But the can of worms is BIG here.”
I’m not saying that the NCAA is not making a lot of money off athletes because they are. The NCAA is horrible at controlling many facets of collegiate athletics, and there is a need for change is many aspects; however, this issue is not one of those.
The NCAA sells the jerseys of student-athletes without the player receiving any of the money. I mean come on; we all know that the Texas A&M No. 2 jersey is Johnny Manziel even though his name is not on the back of it. That part is wrong and should change, but to say that student-athletes should be given financial stipends is hard for me to envision.
Why are those in favor of players receiving financial incentives craving for more and more benefits? Sure, the NCAA makes a lot of money, but do these athletes not realize how valuable a free education is in today’s society.
There are players all across the country attending prestigious Universities such as Notre Dame, Duke, Stanford, UCLA, etc. and walking out of there debt free with a four-year degree, if they assert themselves correctly. How many of those players had to adhere to the same academic standards of the regular students when enrolling? How many of those players in various sports would have gone to college without the athletic assistance of their scholarship? How many of those athletes are transforming their lives by receiving an education to create a better life for themselves and their future family? Their lives are changed forever because of a simple, athletic scholarship. Is that not good enough anymore?
It seems to me as the value of a free education is just something to blow off. I will be walking out of Emory & Henry College on May 10 with nearly $30,000 in student loans, and that does not even count the amount my parents pay for me. I wonder if Colter has that burden to bear. Sure, I made the choice to take out the loans and play Division III college football, but I was not blessed athletically as some of the young men out there today playing for larger schools. I have the same passion as them, if not more in my opinion, but unfortunately that’s how life is; you cannot always get what you want as the Rolling Stones famously said.
What can anyone do without a college degree in this society and make an honest, successful living? Unless you catch a break or happen to know the right people, you would be working at a fast food restaurant and probably struggling to get by.
The Northwestern case only applies to private colleges and universities currently, as well as just football and basketball, but the public schools will eventually fight for it as well. Here is my question to them: How do you determine the value of each program and each player? A football player at Alabama sure is not worth the same as a women’s tennis player at Minnesota or a men’s soccer player at Maryland. Where is the line drawn if these athletes do receive stipends or money?
Also, are the players ready for the NCAA to respond if they are considered employees? To the best of my knowledge, if an employee gets charged with fraud or drug procession while employed they would be fired and would never work there again. Do the athletes, or the “employees”, really want that to deal with?
I saw a great piece on television by an ESPN sports analst, J.A. Adande, who is a Northwestern graduate, and he is strongly in favor of the players. He said athletes could possibly even do endorsement deals and such. Let me ask another quick question: Does that benefit every athlete? No. Who would be doing an endorsement from Duke? Jabari Parker. Well, what about Alabama? AJ McCarron. That sure would not share the wealth, Mr. Adande.
Maybe I am being too old school or maybe I just do not know what the grind of an NCAA Division I athlete is like, but I do know what the term student-athlete means because I have lived it. To any scholarship athletes that feel like they are being taken advantage of, give me a call and I will help you fill out your Financial Aid for Student Assistance (FAFSA) forms and you can pay for you future like me and thousands of others do.