NCAA opposes student-athlete unionization — no surprise there








Sixth in a series


College sports television contracts with ESPN/ABC, BTN, Fox and CBS College Sports among others range anywhere from eight to 25 years in length. This revenue stream reportedly is worth an estimated billion dollars for the top five conferences, including the Big Ten, with each of the 14 schools supposedly getting close to $21 million annually.

This stream, however, quickly dries up when it comes to players, the main reason for these contracts, who in reality are the “hired hands” while their “bosses” get paid. Yet the NCAA acts like an old Supremes tune and keeps holding on to its antiquated “amateur” system, which the world over long abandoned years ago.

That in part explains the organization’s reaction a couple of weeks ago after a group of Northwestern University football players filed a petition to unionize. “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,” stated NCAA lawyer Donald Remy.

Drexel Sports Management Professor Ellen Staurowsky Photo by Charles Hallman
Drexel Sports Management Professor Ellen Staurowsky
Photo by Charles Hallman

That alone shows just how out of touch the NCAA really is. Or just how naïve they think we are: The athlete-students put in a mandatory minimum 20 hours a week. This is similar to college work-study, for which other students are eligible but not players, simply because they are players. While other students — even those on academic scholarships — can work during the school year, athletic scholarship students aren’t allowed to do the same.

Some have compared this to a pimp-prostitute relationship — one party does all the work while another party gets all the moola.

“It’s a contradiction in the claims that this is all about the ‘kids’ and it’s all about their education versus what is known as the reality,” states Drexel Sports Management Professor Ellen Staurowsky.

Just as the Northwestern players acting like Norma Rae is long overdue, it needs to be noted that it’s not just about them getting paid — more on that a bit later — but rather about health benefits and full protection in the workplace just like other school employees. The NCAA responds by acting like Lou Rawls at the thought that their good thing is about to come to an end.

“It is interesting that there is so little concern about, and so little demand that something should be changed,” adds the professor.

This columnist recently discovered SportsBusiness Journal Staff Writers Bill King and Michael Smith’s “pay-for-play” proposal, presented in their December 2 article last year. Using television revenue projections, they believe that if their plan were adopted, “A scholarship athlete after four years would walk away from college [with] anywhere from $25,000 to more than $100,000… That cumulative amount would grow as TV revenue grows. The 25 percent of new TV revenue would be set aside for scholarship athletes as compensation,” anywhere fro $9,000 to $17,000 annually per athlete.

Rather than pay players salaries, King and Smith suggest a players’ IRA, a 21st Century athletic trust fund to be cashed in by the player after their eligibility is completed. Seems simple enough, but remember, we’re talking here about the NCAA’s clenched-fist approach to solving problems.

“A very hypothetical [argument against paying players is] if college sports would go to a pay-for-play model, college sports fans would no longer go to games,” surmises Staurowsky. “I personally believe it is already pay-for-play with the scholarship.”

Unfortunately, the schools gobble up the entire financial pie and the players hardly see any crumbs come their way.


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