Wednesday, March 26, 2014

EXTRA: Could ruling turn college gridders into student-athletes for real?

I was surprised to learn Wednesday of the National Labor Relations Board ruling that found the current and former football players at Northwestern University weren’t completely delusional in their view that they amounted to university employees who ought to have the chance to organize as a union.

Referring to college sports teams as "football factories" could take on new meaning for the players.
I thought for sure that the status quo would prevail, and that the universities that have major athletic programs (and even many who don’t) would be allowed to pretend that they use “student athletes” to wear their colors when they play sports for the glory of alma mater.

BUT THE LABOR board issued a ruling, that the university is determined to appeal, that ordered an election for the 85 students now on scholarship as part of the Wildcats’ football program.

I don’t believe the athletes playing for college sports teams ought to be in a position where they could be considered as university employees. But the reality is that probably does best describe how they are viewed, and used, by the colleges they attend/work for.

I would gladly hail Wednesday’s ruling as a plus if it meant that universities were to restudy the role of their athletic departments, and if it meant that the way the ballplayers on college teams were treated were to be something more along the line of students who happen to participate in a campus activity.

Instead of the current role for students in the major sports programs such as basketball or football, where some people who wouldn’t even give a thought to attending college go for a year or two because the NCAA programs have essentially become the equivalent of minor leagues for the National Football League or the National Basketball Association.

EVEN IN BASEBALL, the number of professional ballplayers who attended a college is on the rise. But the number who go to play ball in a competitive atmosphere before signing on to play in the minor leagues is also overwhelming.

It makes me wonder how many of them will have any glory moments of college ball, or are just viewing it as part of the preparation for a long-shot career in professional sports.

Which if they make it is one thing. But if they don’t, then it leaves people in a position where they’ll wish they could have got the education they were supposedly getting while they were wearing the university colors.

I do believe that many universities would alter their policies in terms of athlete treatment and restore them back to something respecting the “student” part of the equation, if it meant they could avoid having to recognize the idea of collegiate student labor unions.

SO WHAT BECOMES of the Northwestern U. gridiron crew? I suspect this case will take so many years to work its way through the courts that none of the current players will be around, should the labor board’s ruling ultimately be upheld.

But perhaps there’s someone about 9 or 10 right now who doesn’t quite develop into a top player worthy of an SEC or Pac 10 school – or Michigan or Ohio State, either.

But as a result, he may get a bit more responsible treatment while taking the field at the former Dyche Stadium. And perhaps even some of those higher-skilled athletes also will gain some respect from their universities/employers as well.


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