NCAA Wrong On Employee-Athletes

The NCAA is looking to maintain its monetary control over intercollegiate athletics, and the players are no longer willing to comply. If the NLRB grants them union status, the players will soon want a bigger slice of the $5.15 billion in revenue currently being generated by the so-called big five conferences. That’s just a given.

How long it will take is anyone’s guess.

Tired of being dictated to by an organization that has done a masterful job of consolidating power within the hands of a few, the players are making a stand and gaining support from powerful friends. The group is being backed by United Steel Workers (which is nice) and NFL Players Association (which is necessary). Others are likely to follow.

The NCAA has shown itself to be nothing but dismissive.

Donald Remy, the NCAA’s chief legal officer, said, “This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education. Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize.”

The NCAA’s opinion that employment undermines a university’s educational mission is laughable if not contemptible. If its statement is true, then every student working part time in the library, waiting tables or working as a graduate assistant is somehow having their education devalued.

The players already appear to be losing the battle of public opinion. The majority of on-line reader posts show strong anti-player sentiment. Even typically supportive opinion makers are with the opposition.

“The greatest gift you can receive in the world is a free college experience/education – the need for a greater gift is sickening,” tweeted former Notre Dame and Oklahoma State player and current ESPN broadcaster Doug Gottlieb.

That’s a bit harsh. But he is right, to an extent.

Yes, a college education is worth much more than the actual cost of tuition, but it also is true the NCAA is wonderful at creating rules for its own benefit. That’s what Colter and the others are protesting.

Last year, Joel Bauman was a sophomore wrestler at Min-nesota and an aspiring musician. He got into trouble with the NCAA when his video One in the Sky was posted for sale on iTunes. Bauman performed under his own name and identified himself as a wrestler for the Golden Gophers. Big mistake. He was ruled ineligible for the season but told he could regain his right to compete if he would use an alias. It’s one thing to make sure an athlete isn’t receiving impermissible benefits, it’s quite another to prevent someone from earning income in an activity unrelated to his sport. Bauman refused the offer. Good for him.

While the players have the moral edge, the NCAA has the resources and the support. It would be in both sides’ best interests to settle – fast.

In exchange for agreeing that athletes aren’t employees and that scholarships are no form of salary (therefore freeing colleges from all issues associated with players becoming state employees), the College Athletes Players Association (which is the working name for the players group) agrees to drop any call for player pay. The NCAA and member institutions would be allowed to license goods (e.g., jerseys with players’ numbers) and split with the players any revenue generated by a player’s likeness and image. Player transfer rules would remain, and a player representative would be added as a full voting member of the NCAA’s board of directors.

And if an athlete wants a part-time job selling lemonade or interning with Jay Z, he’s allowed. Not because the NCAA allows it, but because human dignity demands it.