We’re Listening, NWU Playaz

Quaecumque sunt veraToday is the day on which the Northwestern Wildcats will vote on whether they will organize a union. Interesting times in collegiate sports are afoot. While the vote today is not going to instantly transform anything, it is one step in what can be a major shake-up of the whole mess.

I would expect the Wildcats to reject the unionization. By their own admission, they’re treated pretty well there. Northwestern is the starting point, a test case, as it were, only because this effort to unionize college sports and treat players as university employees was spearheaded by former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter. Northwestern is a private school with some pretty good credentials. My thought is that so-called student-athletes there have a good thing going and won’t want to rock the boat, no matter how much Colter lobbies for his case.

Even if they do vote for the union, the NLRB decision that the players could be treated as employees is under review. Nothing happens very fast in Washington, as you well know.

But the times, they are a-changin’, as Bob Dylan would assert. College sports are big money generators, and greedy meat hooks gravitate toward big money generators. A transformation will take place, and these rumblings will become a groundswell no matter how the NWU players vote.

Certainly, the NWU model will be mimicked elsewhere, in venues more likely to go the union direction, where players are not treated as well as they are at Northwestern. Basketball mills might be an early target due to the fewer number of players and the inner city urban nature of the constituency.

Unions aside, this turkey believes that these so-called student athletes are actually university employees, and they need to be compensated for putting money in the till for their employers. They need to be reimbursed for living expenses, and paid a decent salary. Furthermore, they need to get a cut of the money they generate from product endorsements. This can be an indirect kind of thing, such as the establishment of a fund for ongoing medical expenses and living expenses for warriors injured in combat. It can’t go on the way it has gone — with the universities and the NCAA reaping all the rewards while so-called student-athletes risk life-changing injuries to generate rewards they will never see.



  1. Joe says

    I don’t know if being an employee is the answer and I’m pretty sure the IRS would treat everything from scholarships to Nike gear to cream cheese for those bagels as income, but I do think it behooves at least the big 5 conferences to shake the $$ tree and provide for the full cost of an education, guaranteed health benefits and the ability to complete their degree at no cost after their eligibility is over (although if you’ve been in school for 5 years and don’t have a degree, you probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place.) Get rid of the over-signing and cutting guys that just didn’t work out. And there are probably a few more things that can be done relatively easily without opening that door marked Union!

    How is it accomplished you ask? Very easily if you’re one of the Big 5 conferences.


    I’ve also felt for years that the NFL/NBA should be kicking in some amount of cash to be shared by all these schools that are providing no cost talent identification and subsequent development to the professional teams!

    Lots to work out here, but with the money that’s being thrown around, it can be done without re-classing athletes as employees or giving them a union card.

    • says

      It might not be a choice that so-called student-athletes are classified as employees and thus, subject to labor laws and potential unionization. Ohr’s NLRB opinion stated that they are indeed university employees. Of course, that decision is being appealed to the full NLRB, and if it stands there, will probably be appealed in the Federal courts. That’s how important and game-changing it is, but all of that will take years and years and will fatten a lot of lawyers on both sides of the question.

      It is a game, obviously, as are all legal machinations involving interpretation of finer points, although the case for so-called student-athletes (hereinafter referred to as SCSA because I’m a lazy-ass) being classified as university employees is all but moot. I’ll quote Jake Simpson of The Atlantic:

      The Northwestern football players, as Patrick Hruby noted at Sports on Earth, do meet all four prongs of the common-law definition of an employee: Someone

      1. performing work for another person or entity under
      2. a contract of hire who is
      3. under that entity’s control, in return for
      4. payment or other compensation.

      The work (football), the payment (a scholarship) and the control (the school has the power to revoke scholarships, not to mention that the NCAA has exhaustively detailed codes of athlete conduct) are easily identifiable in the relationship between student-athletes and their universities. But, crucially, Ohr’s decision also spelled out that a contract of hire is in effect signed by a recruit before he or she is officially accepted by the school.

      I agree. They’re already employees. The big question is, where do we go from here and how long will it take?


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