A College Players Union Rattles NCAA
Last week’s decision by the National Labor Relations Board that Northwestern University football players are employees and can unionize is sending shockwaves through the college athletics landscape.
The board’s decision indicates that there was sufficient evidence introduced that would make players employees: pay in the form of scholarships, required work of between 20 and 50 hours per week, and the generation of millions of dollars in revenues.
The Northwestern players behind the petition have said repeatedly that they’re not looking for payment, bur rather increased levels of medical assistance, including concussion testing and guaranteed four-year scholarships. And they’re not necessarily against some form of stipend.
Many factions, including the people who benefit most from the athletes’ labor, are screaming that the sky is falling. But most also recognize that there is something amiss in a system that rewards so many, but not the people directly generating the revenue. The inflated salaries of coaches, athletic directors and bowl directors while players receive nothing other than a one-year renewable grant in aid has made for curious situations.
Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith makes slightly north of $940,000 in base salary, but get this: He has a clause in his contract giving him bonuses whenever an Ohio State athlete has a notable achievement. When a Buckeye wrestler won the national championship in his weight class, Smith got a bonus of $18,000; the wrestler got nothing.
Something is out of whack there. Resolution doesn’t have to destroy college athletics, but the current model will clearly change. Northwestern president emeritus Henry Bienen told an assemblage at the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics: “If we got into collective bargaining situations, I would not take for granted that the Northwesterns of the world would continue to play Division I sports.” Later in his speech, he mentioned that the Ivy League had opted out of post-season play and ended athletic scholarships in order to preserve an emphasis on academics for players, albeit many decades ago.
I guess that is supposed to be some sort of threat. But if the spectre of being forced into fairness makes some de-emphasize their athletic programs, then so be it. It’s hard to believe that will happen when there is so much room to compromise. But the decision can and will be appealed, and could take years to resolve.
* When Manhattan got into the NCAA tournament and gave powerhouse Louisville all it wanted, head coach Steve Masiello was ready to cash in with a multimillion-dollar contract at South Florida – until someone checked the facts on his resume, where he presented himself as a degree holder from the University of Kentucky. It turns out he never graduated.
South Florida already has rescinded the contract offer, and his old school Manhattan has placed him on leave. And that leads one to believe that Manhattan likely hired him with a false resume, as it’s hard to imagine a university hiring a coach who is charged with graduating players, but who hasn’t graduated himself.
Masiello has learned a hard lesson that sooner or later the falsehoods catch up with you. He now has to hope that Manhattan will allow him to continue and maybe help him obtain the degree that eluded him at Kentucky.