The Educational-Entertainment Complex exposed, under fire

By Guest Blogger:  Matthew A. Kaufman

The National Labor Relations Board recently publicized the NCAA’s playbook.  For sports fans, the NLRB revealed all the things that we kind of knew (or should have known) were true, but now we know: it is all true.

Here’s what happened: on March 26, the NLRB ruled that Northwestern University football players were employees under the National Labor Relations Act and ordered that an election take place on collective bargaining.   The Board found that the Northwestern football team made overwhelming demands on the football players’ time.   During the season, players devoted 40 to 50 hours per week to the team, sometimes as much as 60 hours per week.  During the spring, the team required 12 to 20 hours per week of player time.  That does not leave a lot of time for a first-class education.   In that regard, scholarship football players received $61,000 a year in tuition, room, board and books.  Walk-on players – zero.  The NLRB found that playing football at Northwestern was pretty much a full-time job, hence collective bargaining.

In the big picture, college football seems ripe for unionization.  Last year, the Northwestern football team made a $7 million profit.  Northwestern isn’t even close to being in the league of the NCAA’s top earners.  In 2012, the University of Texas cleared $75 million in profit from football, and in 2014, UT will pay its coach $9.4 million.  Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum are the rank and file college players.  NCAA rules prohibit compensating them for their services.  The reality is that the chances of making the NFL are tiny.  The NFL Players Association advises hopeful professional football players to “come up with alternative plans for the future.”  Imagine if a trade school put that on its website.

The NCAA’s president, Mark Emmert, who himself earns over $1.7 million per year, denounced the NLRB’s decision as “grossly inappropriate.”  According to Emmert,

“To convert to a unionized employee model is essentially to throw away the entire collegiate model for athletics.  You can’t split that in two.  You’re either a student playing sports or you’re an employee of a university.  It would blow up everything about the collegiate model of athletics.”

Emmert almost got it right.  The collegiate model cannot coexist with a business model of college athletics.  But it was the NCAA and its member schools who long ago blew up the notion of bona fide amateur college athletics and turned their students into unpaid football players. The current model of collegiate football makes big money for colleges on the backs of an undercompensated workforce that, by rule, has no negotiating power.  Let’s let the players negotiate so that change can come to this fundamentally unfair system.

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