NCAA has ‘lost the high ground’ in public opinion

AnotherViewsquareThe Northwestern (NW) football players’ possible unionization efforts have started a snowball rolling that, despite all their legal might, the NCAA may find themselves struggling like Bullwinkle to stop.

Almost immediately after the National Labor Relations Board ruled earlier this month that the scholarship football players can hold an election whether or not to unionize, Northwestern officials stated they will appeal. But last week, NW former quarterback Kain Colter and Ramogi Huma, president of the College Athletes Players Association, met behind closed doors “with an undisclosed set of legislators” in Washington.


The MSR talked to Drexel Professor Ellen Staurowsky, who has worked with Huma, a former UCLA football player, since he started the National College Players Association in 2001 as an advocacy group for giving college athletes a voice.

Colter “is carrying the banner” for so many others before him that have fought for fair compensation for their work over the years, noted the professor. “Having worked on this issue for a long time, it was nice to see their position validated. I was thinking about that line of players who have lined up to advocate on their behalf. They had a difficult time making the system hear them and respond accordingly.”

Drexel University Sport Management Professor Ellen Staurowsky Photo by Charles Hallman
Drexel University Professor Ellen Staurowsky
Photo by Charles Hallman

The fact that NW is appealing the NLRB decision “wasn’t surprising but disappointing,” continued Staurowsky. “The position of college sport

leaders appears to be that they are going to battle this all the way to the Supreme Court  if need be. That’s the language coming out of the NCAA on this issue and other related issues. I think it’s really unfortunate because it appears that change really needs to happen.”

Staurowsky pointed out that any victory by the players is, unfortunately, “temporary.”Yet this and other legal matters they are battling might be taking a toll on the big, bad NCAA.

Once a big winner in the public opinion court, “Their efforts in terms of media spin are no longer effective because of the fact that inequities in the system are so obviously large,” said the sports management professor. No longer can the NCAA “put out a message and it would go unchallenged. I think [they] lost the high ground.”

So could it be that college sports’ Wizard of Oz is shrinking right before our eyes? The present system “historically has resisted change at every turn, in terms of recognizing the labor force that serves as the economic engine for the enterprise,” said Staurowsky. “I think we are seeing the results when the curtain is pulled back.”

“It becomes clearer that the system has been built on exploitative ethics,” she noted.  “I think it becomes more difficult for college sport leaders to defend their position. It’s not just the O’Bannon case or the Northwestern football team seeking to unionize. We have a wealth of cases” challenging amateurism, inadequate health care for athletic injuries, concussions. It’s not all about the money, as some falsely suggest.

“These cases are not going away. I think the cumulative effect of all that has significantly eroded whatever high ground the NCAA has,” said the professor.

Finally, Staurowsky notes that Colter “is a young man of principle and has distinguished himself in positive ways, and someone who can be a significant figure as Curt Flood was to baseball. Ramogi Huma would join him in that role” as well.


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