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Editorial: NCAA must do more for its athletes

The history of the American labor movement is the story of exploited workers. It is now time for the chapter on the Division I college athletics to be written.

The NCAA has made an enormous amount of money off the toil of its student athletes, many of whom sacrifice academics and their long-term health to fulfill their scholarship obligations. It is also true that many of them would never have had a chance at a college education if not for an athletic scholarship. But awareness is growing among college athletes that while they’re thankful for the education, they deserve more.

In March, a landmark ruling by the National Labor Relations Board cleared the way for Northwestern University’s football team to unionize. On Friday, the players exercised their newfound right and voted on whether to bargain collectively.

Although the results of that vote won’t be made public until the board’s appeals process is complete, the very fact that votes were cast should be enough to spur the NCAA to action.

Of course, whenever the word “billions” is attached to revenue, you can be certain the fight will be long and bloody.

Early last month, NCAA President Mark Emmert said: “To be perfectly frank, the notion of using a union employee model to address the challenges that do exist in intercollegiate athletics is something that strikes most people as a grossly inappropriate solution to the problems. It would blow up everything about the collegiate model of athletics.”

“Grossly inappropriate” is also a good way to describe the 40 to 50 hours a week Division I athletes dedicate to their teams, or the fact that 85 percent of them live $3,000 to $5,000 below the poverty line despite the NCAA’s $16 billion in television contracts.

To Concord’s Luke Bonner and other board members of the College Athletes Players Association, the problem isn’t merely about money. It’s about having a voice.

“We’re saying as an employee, as recognized by the (National Collegiate Players Association) currently, the athletes deserve a say in the working conditions,” Bonner said.

In terms of working conditions, Division I athletics may not resemble Upton Sinclair’s meatpacking district in The Jungle, but in sports such as basketball and football, there is a significant gap between the services provided and the benefits received, even when you factor in the cost of an education.

The bottom line is that Division I athletes who go on to sign lucrative professional contracts shouldn’t be the only ones who are allowed to use college sports to build a future.

That is why the NCAA should draft a sensible policy, not face-saving PR reforms, for its student athletes. It should address health care, stipends, a work week that leaves ample time for academics, the right of athletes to market themselves and some form of profit-sharing.

The NCAA needs to understand that nothing is gained by remaining on defense.

Officials have the opportunity to begin a good-faith dialogue that includes a lot of listening.

To allow the outcome of lawsuits to dictate change is to deny any institutional responsibility to the young male and female athletes who give so much to the nation’s colleges and universities – and their fans.

Legacy Comments7

This writer has done a poor job of researching critical facts. At the heart of the challenge is Title IX. The football program generates the revenues that must be spread among the scholarships and other costs paid out to support the female and other male athletes in a proportionate way. In effect, the federal law imposes a form of communism on all athletic departments so while the football players are getting the press, money is going to the other sports. Additionally, the NCAA prohibits student-athletes from spending more than about 25 hours a week in-season. The writer should report any violations of that to the NCAA. Then there is the ridiculous plaintive bleating that only pro athletes are able to "use college sports to build a future." It's obvious nonsense. Student-athletes should have their concerns heard and their needs met. This should be done in a way reflective of good policy and the real world of federally regulated sport.

This writer has done a poor job of researching critical facts. At the heart of the challenge is Title IX. The football program generates the revenues that must be spread among the scholarships and other costs paid out to support the female and other male athletes in a proportionate way. In effect, the federal law imposes a form of communism on all athletic departments so while the football players are getting the press, money is going to the other sports. Additionally, the NCAA prohibits student-athletes from spending more than about 25 hours a week in-season. The writer should report any violations of that to the NCAA. Then there is the ridiculous plaintive bleating that only pro athletes are able to "use college sports to build a future." It's obvious nonsense. Student-athletes should have their concerns heard and their needs met. This should be done in a way reflective of good policy and the real world of federally regulated sport.

So stop all the scholarships, let the student work any deal they want on the outside and then pay the full cost of the school. Personally I think a full scholarship is plenty of compensation for a college athlete, the football and basketball farm leagues are the colleges. Let the pro teams pay them to be in training.

I agree that all athletic scholarships should be eliminated, but if the pros want farm leagues, they should be outside of college. The insanity of putting sports first starts younger and younger. Kids are making choices at age-10 or younger to put thousands of hours into a sport, when they should be putting that energy into studying. The solution is simple, eliminate all athletic scholarships. If an 18-year-old wants to go play football for the NFL-farm-league, that is fine. But, don't make them fake life as a college student, when they never intend to graduate, just so the college can make millions.

Now that they have unionized - colleges should charge the athletes for tuition, room, board, training rooms , physical therapy, coaching, transportation and lodging at games....etc etc etc

Why should they do that just because they've unionized????

words from a union member - don't you think you should identify your affiliation?

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