There is a large part of me that is enjoying the absurd decision reached last week by a Chicago-based National Labor Relations Board official which says that Northwestern University’s football players are school employees and should be able to form a union.
After all, it is the ham handedness of the NCAA (this is the recovering sports writer in me) and most college athletic departments that got us to this point. And the Obama Administration’s absurd fixation with unions. (Here comes the political pundit.)
Still, after I’ve had a good laugh, it’s time to look at this through the lens of reality.
Are student athletes employees? Well, there is no doubt that they do get paid. An undergraduate degree at Northwestern is, by that university’s own numbers, something north of $250,000 (assuming it is completed in four years.) And, presumably, since most football or basketball players (particularly from Northwestern) do NOT make it to the NBA or the NFL, that degree does have a market value in the real world that far exceeds the cost of getting it.
So, the concept that a student who plays football or basketball to get through school is not getting fair compensation is crazy talk. The kind of crazy talk that the United Steelworkers—who are behind this—would need to go to college to learn just how crazy it is. They probably do still teach economics at Northwestern. Maybe the Steelworkers need a special, short course.
And the fact that these little twerps are getting a college education that stickers at a quarter of a million dollars for their athletic efforts and which is probably easily worth a million dollars more to them once they are in the job market is the precise reason this is mostly nonsense. (They do have a few points we’ll get to in a minute.)
Back in the days when I ran a radio network out of Tulsa, I also ran the Oral Roberts University basketball network. ORU was coached by the late Ken Trickey. Trick used to say about the NCAA that “if it is good for the boy, it is against the rules.”
But he also used to say that the opportunity to get that college degree was the best deal out there. He was not wrong.
The concept of unionizing college football and basketball players is, in a word they used on a university campus in my day, ludicrous.
What are they going to do? Strike for more playing time? Fewer two-a-days? Use their new-found power to get the coach to play a more NBA style run and gun so their professional prospects will be greater?
These are college kids. They are getting a free education in return for playing a game. Most of them—all of them for that matter—desperately need that education.
Now, if you want to talk about tweaking the contract, that’s one thing.
I would think that a player should have his scholarship vest after the freshman year, and that it should be good through the highest degree offered by that institution for an unlimited period of time. Or, put another way, after they have exhausted their dreams of playing professionally, they ought to be able to go back to school and get the thing of value they earned in their college playing days. You know, an education.
Now there’s an argument made that the Universities are reaping millions from the football and basketball programs and that coaches are getting rich.
A mediocre football coach at a mediocre state university can make the best part of a million dollars a year while paying no attention to academics or graduation rate. (And you folks at UNLV know who I’m writing about.)
Perhaps the university presidents who allegedly run the NCAA could head off that criticism by passing a rule tying athletic department performance bonuses and base pay to things that are connected to the actual mission of a university. You know, things like education.
As far as those “millions”…
It seems to me that at most institutions, the money goes to pay for scholarships and other expenses in sports that do not produce revenue.
I cannot get away from writing about sports a few times a year, but there is a political component to this as well.
The morons our President keeps appointing to the Department of Labor and other areas of the Federal bureaucracy are so out of touch with reality that they can make a decision like this with a straight face.
And this will undoubtedly get some Congressional attention because dabbling in college sports is much more fun than, say, dealing with the budget deficit or Obamacare.
But the bottom line is that if our Federal Government would spend more time worrying about Vladimir Putin and less time worrying about the final four, we would be a lot better off.
And, Mr. President, feces rolls from the top down.
Photo credit: Pete Prodoehl (Flickr)