The issue of college athlete compensation has received a lot of attention lately. Though it’s long been common knowledge that universities make billions of dollars off of their athletic programs, the question of whether college athletes should receive a piece of this cash mountain is starting to be taken more seriously.
This week, the National College Players Association (NCPA) took a major step on the pay-for-play front. The association filed a petition on behalf of the football players at Northwestern University seeking to grant college athletes employee rights with the NCAA. The petition was submitted to the National Labor Relations Board and included union cards signed by a number of Northwestern players.
"This is about finally giving college athletes a seat at the table," said NCPA President Ramogi Huma. “Athletes deserve an equal voice when it comes to their physical, academic and financial protections."
The standard retort to the idea of paying college athletes is that they are compensated through scholarships. Though this idea does deserve to be taken seriously, there are a few issues with it.
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For starters, most college athletes do not receive full scholarships. Many do not receive scholarships at all. Factor in the estimated 40 hours a week required to play most college sports – and the fact that the NCAA makes nearly a billion dollars annually off of these sports – and a case starts to form.
College players work like employees for the NCAA. Their work is the product the NCAA sells. This is the same employee-employer dynamic seen in the professional world. NCAA officials maintain that athletes are primarily students, and that college sports are a part of their educational experience. Accordingly, they say, athletes should not be professionalized (see: paid).
But if this is true, why are NCAA executives aloud to treat college sports as a business? If college sports are about education – not money – why is the NCAA allowed to sell tickets, advertising, and apparel like a professional league? Universities made an estimated $6.4 billion in 2012 from athletic programs. For reference, the NBA and MLB posted $5 and $8 billion in revenues respectively during the same year.
I certainly don’t have all the answers to these questions, but I do think they’re worth considering. Here’s what Northwestern University quarterback Kain Colter had to say about the petition filed by his team this week.
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"The action we're taking isn't because of any mistreatment by Northwestern," Colter said. "We love Northwestern. The school is just playing by the rules of their governing body, the NCAA. We're interested in trying to help all players -- at USC, Stanford, Oklahoma State, everywhere. It's about protecting them and future generations to come.
"Right now the NCAA is like a dictatorship. No one represents us in negotiations. The only way things are going to change is if players have a union."
This is likely just the tip of the iceberg of this movement by players. They’re not just seeking financial compensation, either. The NCAA currently absolves itself of any legal or medical responsibility for injuries suffered in NCAA sporting events or practice. I don’t know what the solution is to the flawed dynamic between the NCAA and its players, but I do know this: something is not right here.