Listen To You Tell Me Texas Friday 4/4/14
Seldom (as in: up until now, never) do I agree with the National Labor Relations Board. But last week they got something right. The NLRB ruled that the players on the Northwestern University football team qualify as employees of the university and thus have the right to unionize.
Let me make clear that I’m not a fan of unions. Most of the big-name unions in the United States are little more than legal money-laundering operations. They take money from their members in the form of dues, they give that money in massive quantities to Democratic candidates for office who in turn pass laws and promote regulations favorable to the leadership of the unions. Member representation is purely incidental.
Nor am I a fan of the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB uses its power as an agency of the federal government to bully companies and employers for the benefit of labor unions.
But I cannot argue the logic of NLRB Regional Director Peter Sung Ohr. Ohr rendered a ruling in favor of a position presented by the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA), an organization whose founding was spearheaded by outgoing Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter.
The CAPA asked the National Labor Relations Board to find that college football is, for all practical purposes, a commercial enterprise that relies on players’ labor to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in profits.
The NLRB agreed with that position, saying that football players are not “primarily students.” Their activities on the football field are subject to the direct control of the university and they are required to spend as many as 60 hours per week practicing for and playing in football games. That is more time than they spend in classes and is more time than is necessary under any state or federal law to be counted as a fulltime employee.
In his testimony to the NLRB, Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter said that the coaches discouraged him from taking academically rigorous classes and that they do not permit scholarship players to miss a practice if it conflicts with a class.
There are many who decry the ruling and I am one of them. I cringe at the thought of the federal government shoving unionization down the throat of anyone. I detest the very idea of unionizing a bunch of college kids.
But the industry that is major college football has only itself to blame for this one.
Division I college football is a national enterprise that is repeatedly guilty of taking young men, many of them from severely disadvantaged economic circumstances, laughably labeling them as “student athletes” and then using them to generate millions of dollars in revenue.
In return, these “student athletes” are given access to college classes of dubious academic value leading to a degree (for the minority who graduate) of dubious economic value.
Put simply, major college football programs are guilty of the very kind of worker exploitation that led to the creation of labor unions in the first place.
That it finally bit ‘em where it hurts should surprise no one.
Having attended Baylor University on a football scholarship, i will use a line from my Contracts class in Baylor Law School–contracts are like wrestling, for every hold, there is a guard against it. It might not be the universities and coaches themselves to blame so much as the NCAA. Unquestionably a lot of young men and women, today, are just so much ka-ching fodder, but i have also seen a lot of those same people get a degree from an institution that they otherwise would not have been able to get into, much less graduate from for lack of money.
I can’t speak for the other schools and it has been 50 years since i was on the field, but sometimes when we had to have a 5:30 class in the spring semester, our coaches turned us loose to make that class. My last teammate that i spook with, was yesterday and he became an attorney and now a Criminal District Judge in Tarrant County. Not bad for a poor boy from De Leon County. If he could have been paid for his troubles on the field, i wonder how much more today, he would be worth? 50 years is a long time to compound!
This is too delicious to come to fruition. If the players vote to strike, do they have to start going to class? Will union long snappers be allowed to snap the ball to non-union place kick holders? Most importantly, as a former student athlete, am I entitled to reparations?
I’m going to start by saying I don’t disagree with you. I am looking for your thoughts on how this would apply to non-scholarship students and about the four-year restriction on ball players. If they are employees do they have the right to hang around after their four years are over? Do they get another position? And how would this affect walk-ons?
I think that this decision brings more beef to the argument that there should be NFL farm teams or a semi-pro organization that has true merit. Maybe the NFL ought to authorize a couple of farm teams per NFL franchise and skip the university setting. Let’s face it; many of these players wouldn’t be in college without the full financial support they receive in return for playing. Maybe they could just step into a play-for-pay life.
Of course, the colleges will scream at the loss of their cash cows, but universities are supposed to be about education. Sports are supposed to be extracurricular, not primary priority.