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Is the Apocalypse upon us? PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, April 05, 2014 8:00 PM

Metcalfe's Musings


Sports Editor

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I really hadn’t thought through last week’s decision by a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board to allow football players at Northwestern University to form the first players union of college athletes.

Obviously, we haven’t heard the last of this case but it does open some different cans, so to speak.

If this case continues and it eventually is decided that, yes, college athletes can unionize, it will most definitely change the games of collegiate athletics forever — or at least for a while!

The Northwestern player that really seemed to push this matter, senior quarterback Kain Colter, won’t even be able to take advantage of this because he is graduating.

I can see some of their arguments: making sure players are taken care of as far as injuries go, especially with the increased emphasis on concussions, and likely to also include different rules of transfer, insurance, etc.

Who doesn’t want to make sure their medical bills are taken care of should they suffer a devastating injury playing a sport — especially football — and have their education taken care of should they no longer be able to play because of it?

Generally, I think they are but in this day and age, everybody wants every “T” crossed and every “I” dotted.

A coach can change jobs seemingly at whim — I know there are buy-out clauses, etc. — or be fired but a player has to sit out a year should they want to change schools.

Players — especially at the Division I level but theoretically for all levels — are supposed to pick a school for academic reasons but we know if they don’t feel a certain comfort level with the coach(es), they aren’t generally going to attend that school.

Should they be punished for wanting to leave should that coach leave for whatever reason?

That opens up more cans of worms.

They also feel they should be able to get some of the gravy when it comes to licensing their jerseys and images on video games, for which I don’t believe they are allowed to participate.

I can kind of understand that as well because, well, people buy that jersey for that specific person.

I think that one of the other motivating factors for players — in their minds — is that because of the heavy involvement that is playing major-college football particularly: the practices, workouts, film study, etc., that is an all-year-round scenario anymore; it’s difficult for them to get a work-study job during the school year — so they can occasionally be just a student and do such things as laundry — and keep their grades up.

Even NCAA President Mark Emmert acknowledges some of this (they can make money in the summer but time is more limited for them with reporting early for camp and such) by calling for a $2,000-per-player stipend to help athletes defray some expenses; some want more because of the millions that are brought into their colleges and conferences.

Plus, any student on a scholarship has to keep their grades up or else lose it, though if they don’t have the added time needed to play intercollegiate sports, they find it easier to do so.

Here is the thing that makes me kind of leery. In this situation, Colter will have gone through college on a $75,000-per-year scholarship to play football.

Now this is for the 85 guys on scholarship this season, definitely not chump change but what they consider too little.

That’s an awful lot of money that he doesn’t have to borrow or connive or, well, “work for” to get his college degree, meaning he won’t graduate facing a $300,000-plus debt even before he starts working.

A lot of students would covet that scenario in this day and age.

Northwestern is a private university, which means their fees are generally a lot more to attend college.

I don’t think a scholarship at a public university like Ohio State or Michigan — for the sake of this discussion, not “that team up north” — is valued close to that but instead of $300,000, it’s more like $100,000.

Now, unless I am wrong, if they are now considered employees and can be unionized, that compensation — which the university calls grants — will now be considered wages and can be taxed.

If they are unionized, will these rules be applied to all universities and therefore all scholarships will be the same?

Will there be one union to cover all of the teams or some? Or different sports?

Do we really want to bring the potential for strikes, holdouts and such into the college game, not just football but basketball, baseball, etc.? For both men and women?

Do you see where this is going?

Do you see why this is far from resolved?

I know I don’t have all the ins and outs of this and is probably far more complicated.

Is this clear as mud?


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