By Shawn Gakhal
Student athletes at Northwestern University asked to be represented by a labor union in late January, which marked the first instance of a team seeking union backing in college sports history.
Their petition was filed on the behalf of Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, who submitted the petition at the regional office of the National Relations Board, according to ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”
The growing sentiment of paying student athletes is not new, but formally asking to be represented by a labor union is significant because this is the first time that it has happened.
There are plenty of cases in favor of compensating college athletes.
One could point to the case of former Ohio State Quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who was alleged to have sold thousands of autographed merchandise to local boosters, which forced him to withdraw from the university in scandal.
Would he have gone through such measures to sell his autographed memorabilia if there was a payment structure in place in the National Collegiate Athletic Association?
The more relevant and greatest argument in favor of paying athletes in college is the autograph-signing controversy of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel in Jan. 2013. There were reports that he signed autographs for money, which threatened to have him suspended for the entire 2013 college football season.
It turned out that he didn’t get money for these autographs.
But should student athletes receive monetary compensation for their work?
As a student athlete, not an employee, Manziel wasn’t able to monetize his insanely popular star power this past year.
All the money he brought in via TV ratings, merchandise sales and future recruitment revenue made Texas A&M even richer, but Manziel saw none of that.
How exactly was that fair?
Some would argue that his education equates to being paid.
Please, does anyone really think a superstar of Manziel’s caliber really went to classes?
Plus, while education is great and everything, players, regardless of their popularity, should be able to profit on their own likeability and talent, especially if they’re being pimped out by their respective universities via merchandise sales or TV ad revenue.
While Roosevelt University isn’t anywhere near close to Texas A&M in academic stature and sports program, there are parallels to draw and lessons to be learned.
Sophomore Josh Hicks, a point guard for the Lakers men’s basketball team, spoke about the time and effort athletes put into their respective sports and the subsequent rewards they should reap for such dedication.
“I feel like we are devoting a lot of our time, not just in school, but also in this one sport [basketball] with all the traveling that we do and the long practices,” Hicks explained. “I feel like we do deserve at least some type of pay, especially here at Roosevelt, since they’re not even offering basketball or athlete scholarships.”
Roosevelt’s athletics program currently doesn’t offer any sports scholarships. Students are supposed to either finance their own expenses or apply through financial aid.
“They don’t offer any sports scholarships,” Hicks said. “What they do is give you a letter of intent just to get a commitment from you. Other than that, there’s no money coming out of it — no type of money coming for your books, no tuition — it’s all just what you get off financial aid.”
But not every Laker agrees that pay for play is the solution.
“Money is always nice, but at the same, I’m doing what I love,” said Maria Tamburrino, starting forward for the Lakers women’s basketball team. “It would be something that I’d have to think about. … I am coming [to Roosevelt] to get my education, [which] is the most important thing. Basketball is a really close second. If I got [sports] scholarship money, like the Northwestern students who probably get full rides, I wouldn’t mind.”
Hannah Kriss, backup goalie for the Lakers women’s soccer team, echoed Tamburrino’s sentiment and said that there are other benefits besides pay for playing on a collegiate sports team.
“It’s like you’re getting paid because you’re getting a lot of extra help with school,” Kriss said. “You’re also getting a lot of opportunities to make more connections. I get access to gyms and trainers, so I personally don’t feel the need to get paid to play.”
While many share in Hicks’ thought that students should get paid to play, there’s also the issue of whether or not students would join collegiate sports teams solely because of the financial aspect.
“Possibly, but it is a big time commitment,” Tamburrino said. “You have to put a lot of work and dedication into the team and it’s not just a leisure sport.”
Whether or not an athlete wants to endure all the intense practices, grueling games and tiresome travel schedules for no pay is, ultimately, up to the player and how much he or she loves the game.
“At the end of the day, [basketball is] something that I love to do, and it’s a dream that I wanted to fulfill,” Hicks said.