It’s nothing that hasn’t been discussed before, but a group of Northwestern University football players filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board asking to be certified as a labor union.  With outgoing Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter as their spokesman, with representation from the United Steelworkers Union, the players announced their intentions to be recognized under federal law as employees of the institution they represent.

They brought up some legitimate issues that need to be addressed, but the presence of the steelworkers union and it’s president raises the question of unionizing being the best way to go about it.  The potential unionization of college athletes is not a new premise, but to have an already organized labor union as representation suggests the union is attempting to swell it’s ranks to increase the power of it’s existing membership.

I could inject some humor at this point and ask why Northwestern, why not Alabama or Auburn or some other school that would bring legitimate athletic success that greatly increases the institution’s income into the mix.

The members of the new College Athletes Players Association say they are just looking for an increase in status that already exists in the form of scholarships and stipend payments to full employee status.  One situation not addressed at a private institution like Northwestern is the situation surrounding student athletes at state institutions, where full employee status comes with state benefits, leading to some athletes getting greater compensation than others.

Colter says the union’s direction is no different than that currently being discussed by the new “power five” alignment in the NCAA, which has already suggested payments for student athletes.  The difference is that those conferences have already delineated themselves from the rest of the NCAA, coincidentally, over the issue of football, feeling they exist on a different level because of the financial commitment they put into their football programs and an admitted ability not shared by other institutions, to increase that commitment.

The new union brings up concerns over injuries that end an athlete’s career and, in turn, they argue, his scholarship, impeding his ability to get an education that will set him up in later life.  The NCAA has already addressed the subject of insuring a proper education for athletes with the Graduation Progress Rate that has cost several institutions post season status.  The crackdown has forced schools to live up to their primary commitment, education.  It wouldn’t be a stretch for the coaches who agreed to the GPR for “the good of their student athletes” to negotiate with the NCAA for continuing scholarships for athletes who’s careers are ended by injury, even setting aside a fund to pay for any after college expenses that stem from those injuries.

Other athletes deal with different problems in life after college.  Bloomfield native Andrew Pinnock is a six year NFL veteran who, through manipulation by unscrupulous business managers, lost virtually all of what he earned in the NFL.  He has suggested to the NCAA special education for those who will pursue a life after college in sports to teach them how to protect their future earnings, something the NCAA is already seriously considering and they may even hire their own financial experts to visit campuses on a regular basis so the burden of funding such classes doesn’t fall on the institutions.

There are any number of ways athletes and coaches can appeal to the NCAA as a body to be compensated for their role in promoting their universities, I’m just not sure aligning with a labor union that obviously has an ulterior motive that likely has little to do with the well being of the athletes is the best way to go about it.

With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.


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