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CFB Players’ Unionization Not a Cash Grab

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By Chris Mahr

Here’s a sampling of how some commenters responded to the initial story from “Outside the Lines” on Tuesday about the attempted unionization of Northwestern’s football players:

  • “Let’s do this, you play sports for my university for the next few years and in return I’ll give you a free college education along with free room and board. How that sound to you. You want to join a union? Go get a job at Piggly Wiggly.”
  • “You want to be paid? Okay. We will just go ahead and give you $50,000 a year. However, we’ll take away your tuition, room and board, meal plan, money for books/supplies. Good luck.”
  • “Wow college athletes have turned into pampered babies. I once liked college sports more than pros. Not so anymore.”

Under normal circumstances, it’d be easy to dismiss these comments as the deluded opinion of a select few. Alas, the hundreds of up-votes that these comments received made that impossible.

What these folks are incorrectly taking away from the story is that Northwestern’s players (on behalf of their counterparts across the sport) are demanding that the NCAA start paying them. When, in fact, that’s far from the crux of the players’ argument.

On Tuesday’s edition of “Outside the Lines,” Wildcats QB Kain Colter clearly laid out the rationale for why he and his teammates - with assistance from former UCLA linebacker and National College Players Association president/founder Ramogi Huma - have filed paperwork to form a union: To guarantee the sanctity of their scholarships and that medical costs for any injuries they sustain as collegians are covered in both the short- and long-term.

Which is along the lines of what labor unions have always provided their members. Workers join unions and guilds not so they can be paid extra on top of what’s already provided to them. Rather, they join because said unions can guarantee a) Basic rights and privileges, such as various types of insurances (health, life, dental, etc.); and b) That their employers won’t exploit them and indiscriminately kick them to the curb.

Until Colter, Huma and company brought it up, it didn’t occur to me that things I always assumed college football players received as part of their scholarships weren’t guaranteed at all. Far too often players lose their scholarships when, for one reason or another, they can’t play anymore. And the idea that players have to pay the medical costs for injuries sustained in college just because their eligibility has expired - and sometimes even before it’s expired - is sheer lunacy.

I don’t blame Colter and company for trying to unionize in order to add what, on the surface, are pretty basic rights and privileges that athletes should be entitled to in addition to their scholarships. Doesn’t the NCAA want to see the majority of FBS football and Division I basketball players graduate, rather than the current rate of 50%? Doesn’t the NCAA want to send these athletes into the real world as physically functioning individuals rather than broken-down people?

Most important: Can’t an organization that recorded a $71 million surplus for its 2012 fiscal year find a way to allocate some of that toward what Colter and Huma are pushing for? Particularly as college football and basketball are generating more money than ever?

OTL host Bob Ley asked Colter where more “walking around money” ranked on his and Huma’s list of priorities - the same extra money that all those aforementioned angry commenters were blasting the Northwestern players for. Colter’s answer: It’s not a top priority.

“I don’t think any of us are advocating for big salaries,” Colter replied. “Perhaps an educational trust fund that a player can access after they graduate, I think that could definitely help with their transition from the end of their eligibility into what they get on later in life.”

That’s the closest thing to a cash payment that Colter and company are asking for. And it’s one that wouldn’t happen until after a player’s career is over and one that’d be contingent on earning a diploma. It’s not as if he and Huma are demanding that the NCAA gives out burlap sacks of cash with dollar bills on the sides to current student athletes.

Alas, that’s what some people equate their unionization efforts to. Those folks, however, are missing the point of what a union is and what it provides. Not to mention why Colter and Huma felt compelled to try and form one in the first place.

Chris Mahr is the managing editor of Lost Lettermen. His column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can follow him on Twitter at @CMahrtian.

Bottom Photo Credit: Matt Marton/USA Today Sports

 
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