A seat at the table
Northwestern University is well known for its academic standards, even for athletes, so it's not surprising that members of the Wildcats football team have demonstrated that they are not dummies.
Led by quarterback Kain Colter, many members of the team filed a petition this week with the National Labor Relations Board to be recognized as a union, the College Athletes Players Association. The story first was reported by ESPN.
This is no mere gesture. The group acted with technical advice and support from the United Steelworkers Union, which will not collect dues from the players if the CAPA is approved.
Implications from the move could be enormous. Union recognition would, in effect, make athletes employees of the university. That, in turn, would raise issues such as compensation, insurance coverage and workers compensation coverage for injuries. All of that is especially ominous given ongoing research into the long-term effects of concussions.
The move is a brilliant response by players to the NCAA's refusal, across generations, to cut in players on the billions of dollars that they generate for universities and for the NCAA. Coaches at the most successful programs now make multiple millions of dollars a year and NCAA administrators are highly compensated, yet the organization has maintained the fiction that there is not enough money to pay minor stipends to the kids who generated all of that cash.
People who contend that athletic scholarships are compensation fail to recognize that the vast majority of athletes only have partial scholarships, if any. Scholarships indeed can be valuable, but that doesn't address the value of the athletes' revenue production for their universities.
If the unionization effort succeeds it will give players a seat at the table for the first time. If it fails it still will stand as a reminder of the NCAA's exploitation of young athletes.