By Shawn Gakhal firstname.lastname@example.org
The National Labor Relations Board of Chicago ruled on March 26 that Northwestern University football players could become university employees and unionize.
In what many consider to be a landmark decision, the ramifications of the ruling could have a profound impact on the way that the NCAA has dealt with college players in the past with a possible pay-for-play monetary system coming in the near future.
The NCAA and Northwestern both released statements with similar, like-minded plans to appeal. An appeals process could take years to settle in court.
The judge ruled that forming a union would be contingent on elements like scholarships, control by coaches and the amount of time that players devote to football.
This ruling is especially crucial, considering the large revenue stream that exists within the multi-billion dollar business that is the NCAA.
According to the New York Times, “The television contract for the new college football playoff system is worth $7.3 billion over 10 years, and the current deal to broadcast the men’s basketball tournament is worth $10.8 billion over 14 years.” On April 6, NCAA President Mark Emmert said at the Final Four that, “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 problem.”
Northwestern announced on April 9 its plans to appeal the aforementioned decision to let the Northwestern football players form a union.
“The regional director ignored the evidence of Northwestern’s primary commitment to the education of all of its student-athletes, evidence that fully supports that its students-athletes are primarily students, and not employees,” the university said in its appeal to the ruling.
While Division I Football at Northwestern is markedly different than athletics at Roosevelt University, the ruling on the matter has reignited the debate of whether or not student athletes should get paid.
“Student athletes receive [scholarships] at the Division I Level and in sports like football and basketball,” said Robyn Scherr-Wells, women’s Lakers basketball coach. “They receive full-ride [scholarships] to cover their tuition and room and board for four years, which, at most schools, is valued at over $200,000.”
Scherr-Wells also talked about the additional perks that student athletes receive.
“Another thing to take into account is free training,” Scherr-Wells said. “When you’re a college athlete, you get [a personal trainer] from your coaching and athletic training staff and all the support people around you who are there to help you be successful. In addition to that, the amount of equipment and clothing that football and basketball players receive on road trips and per diem money for meals and food are factors, as well. There’s a lot more that student athletes receive on their Division I scholarships.”
As for paying college athletes, Joe Griffin, men’s Lakers basketball coach, was not in favor of the idea.
“I’m kind of a traditionalist,” Griffin said. “Being able to play at the college level — at any level — is a privilege. It’s definitely earned for most players through hard work. …They’ve also been blessed with the God-given ability to play. I think the intangible value that you get from it weighs a lot more than what kids realize in terms of sacrifice, teamwork, communication, accountability and dedication. It’s the relationships and the network that you become a part of that’s very valuable, as well.”
A real concern for college athletes — especially for ones at Roosevelt — are the hours put into their respective sports, which can interfere with their academics.
Roosevelt doesn’t offer sports scholarships, which makes the commitment to playing sports a full-time job.
“They’re doing it because they want to; they’re doing it because they love the game,” Griffin said. “I just think that’s kind of a conflict there. They don’t have to do that. If they want to raise money, they can go get a job, delivering pizzas or working for the bookstore like any other kid.”
As for the possible formation of a collegiate athletic union at Roosevelt, Scherr-Wells said there’s no real comparison, as the university doesn’t offer athletic scholarships.
“You really can’t compare what’s happening at the Division I Level to our level,” she said. “Because at our level, it’s not even in the same ballpark. [At Northwestern,] student athletes are already here on their academic scholarships only. … Athletics at our level doesn’t make money. Here, it’s a revenue neutral undertaking. … Because their big argument is the amount of money that universities are making off of them, their team. For instance, when Northwestern goes to a bowl game, the amount of money that Northwestern University brings in because their football team went to a bowl game.”
The Northwestern football players will decide and vote to side with the College Athletes Players Association on April 25, according to a spokesman for the NLRB to the Associated Press.