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Student Athletes Win the First Battle Against the NCAA

by on March 27, 2014

Something that didn’t really make headline news, unless you are a sports fan, was a decision by a federal agency that allowed Northwestern football players to unionize.  This has the potential to revolutionize college athletics, and no one is really sure just how it will change things just yet.  Northwestern still has the ability to appeal the decision so in the end the NCAA may be able to defeat this.  But having this small victory will go a long way in adding more rights for student athletes.

As the system works right now it is illegal for college athletes to make money off of their marketability.  Last year Johnny Manziel was suspended for a half game for inadvertently taking money for an autograph signing.  This is work done on his own time.  What if a non-athlete student were to become a famous author, would they not be allowed to autograph their own book?  Let’s say that computer scientists were to become celebrities, which has happened (think Zuckerberg), would it be wrong for him to do an autograph session?  In these cases the NCAA wouldn’t have jurisdiction because they are not athletes, so they have no power to do anything in these cases.

In the case of college athletics the NCAA holds tremendous power over an athletes ability to succeed on and off the field.  It is this coercive power that has made the need for a union to come to fruition.  There was a balance of power that heavily favored college universities and that could great advantage over its student athletes who were in a sense providing near free labor for them.

Northwestern alone averages about $23 million in revenues from its sports department.  There is no reason why a student athlete shouldn’t be allowed a right to access some of this revenue.  I am not arguing for an NFL type players union deal that takes almost half of the revenues but enough to the point where student athletes won’t have to work during the school year or are provided with some security for years after football (think health care and student loan payments).  Just 1% of revenue in one year is about $230,000 a year, and 10% is about $2.3 million per year.  This could go a long way in helping student athletes succeed more at being students and at being athletes.  It can also teach them lessons on finance and money long before they become pro, and before they take real life jobs.  Many athletes only last a few years and squander their money, but if they learn how to use money well before becoming pro it would be a great help to future pros.

So while this is a momentous occasion for student athletes, what will come from it is still not understood, after all it could lose on appeal and the push for unionization could go back to square one.  But it brings up interesting discussion and a lot of “what if” type questions.

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