History was made on April 25 as the scholarship athletes of the Northwestern University football team, led by the former quarterback Kain Colter, cast their votes on whether or not to unionize after a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that they could be considered employees. The results won’t be known for weeks or even months, as the university appeals the decision to allow a vote. But if the students are successful, college athletics as we know it could change drastically.
The regional ruling indicated that college athletes in the high-profile and high-revenue sports have a right to unionize and, thus, to bargain collectively over health-care coverage, transfer rules, and even practice time. (Testimony indicated that football players can spend 40 to 60 hours a week on football-related activities during the season.) But most notably, the NCAA is concerned that athletes would be able to negotiate for potential compensation for their role in the college-sports industrial complex.
The athletics governing body responded to the recent NLRB announcement by stating, “This union-backed attempt to turn student athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education. Student athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary.” The NCAA’s president, Mark Emmert, expressed a similar concern: Unionizing, he said, “would blow up everything about the collegiate model of athletics.” The suggestion here is that players compete solely for the love of the game—and that paying them would damage their intrinsic motivation to play.
It is clearly time for reform in college athletics. But should players be paid for their part in a multibillion-dollar industry? (Chronicle of Higher Education)