BOSTON (CBS) – Later on today, 76 football players from Northwestern University will place their votes on whether or not to become a union in a landmark ruling that will forever change the landscape of college athletics and amateurism.
Even if the majority of the Wildcats vote it down, the threat of unionization alone, and the idea that the student-athletes could form a union if they wanted to, should be a wake up call to the NCAA.
Having worked in a college football office for three years of my undergraduate studies, I feel like I offer a unique perspective on the situation. Now, I didn’t go to Alabama, Notre Dame, Florida, Texas or any other college football powerhouse — but just having seen what goes on in a small, Division 1-AA school should only illustrate the point even further in that, if it’s happening here, I could only imagine what the big schools are like.
For those of you who don’t know, student-athletes are (or are supposed to be) protected under the 20-hour rule, which precludes them from spending more than 20 hours a week in athletic related activities. When you add up positional meetings, treatment, lifting, film room, practices and games, that 20-hour rule is a mere formality, hidden under the guise of “voluntary workouts,” which are in fact never voluntary.
College football is a demanding sport, and I imagine it’s no different in basketball, baseball, hockey, etc. So demanding in fact that athletes are steered and encouraged to take easy classes, skating their way to a meaningless scholarship that will do them no good when their playing days are over.
Then there’s Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier, the darling of the NCAA tournament who made national headlines before the championship game when he said he and his teammates sometimes go to bed “starving.”
That accusation may sound surprising, or even downright dishonest, but when the 20-hour rule is really more like 40 hours, and you factor in the time spent in class, where does this money for food magically come from? These athletes cannot simply pull a part time job given all that’s demanded of them.
They could trade their autographs for money, or tattoos, but then that would get the school in trouble — just ask Ohio State and Jim Tressel.
No student-athlete, or any student for that matter, should ever go to bed hungry. And if some local tattoo artist is willing to trade his services for your inked signature on a piece of paper, why is that a big deal?
No student-athlete, who was promised an education in high school through a college scholarship, should ever be encouraged to transfer schools because the newly-hired coach doesn’t see you as a fit for the program.
No student-athlete that suffers a career-ending injury should be forced to pick up the tab for their hospital bill.
It’s simple, common-sense changes like these that need rendering, and that’s why the threat of unionization should be a cold slap in the face to NCAA president Mark Emmert.
Now having said that, I personally hope the 76 men at Northwestern University vote not to unionize, because I believe that unions often protect under-performers, which is why teachers with tenure that mailed it in years ago are allowed to keep their jobs.
Also, the coach-player relationship will be forever changed for the worse. Rather than just taking the coaching and discipline, a player could very well file a grievance with his union instead of running the early Sunday morning suicides in the gym.
Unionizing might not be the answer, but the status quo is just unacceptable.
Major changes to college athletics are coming, and the threat of unionization should be enough to force the NCAA into appropriate action.
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