Archived Story

You can’t scare me, I’m sticking with the union

Published 3:33pm Saturday, March 29, 2014

On Wednesday, the Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board granted Northwestern University football players the right to unionize. In what is a ground- breaking ruling that could have major implications in college level athletics, athletes have won the right to be considered employees of their respective universities and can now form a union in order to have more say in rules and regulations.

Of course, the purists and traditionalists are terrified. Instead of playing for the love of the game, now their favorite players could potentially — gasp! — be paid. The billions brought in between college football and basketball might finally trickle down to the athletes actually doing the work.

It’s easy to tell what side I’m on. So many people have prophesied doomsday for college sports. And like prophets so often are, they will be wrong.

I’m not worried about how this will play out in the future, including the possibility of players being paid to play for a university. College athletics will continue to prosper or, if they don’t, a minor league for football and basketball that is just as interesting will emerge. I’m in favor of this ruling for one simple reason: It forces the NCAA and its universities to be honest about athletics.

“Student-athlete” is an interesting phrase. It was invented as a way to get athletes to play for your college without actually having to pay them. Give them a free education and they’d practice a couple hours every day in order to get the win on Saturday. I’m not a historian nor do I feel like I need to put too much effort into researching this, but I’m sure the idea of the “student-athlete” became popular right around the time the forward pass was making its way into football playbooks and a three-point line was still unimaginable.

Times have changed. The idea of a “student-athlete” at a major university is as archaic as nailing a peach basket to the wall and throwing a ball at it.

From Tuscaloosa to Fargo, any football or men’s basketball player given a scholarship to attend a university is going for one reason and one reason only: to win games. It’s laughable to me that people still believe these universities actually give their “student-athletes” a free education. With year-round workouts that look more like Ivan Drago’s training montage from Rocky IV than what Rudy suffered through, the room for “student” in that phrase is dwindling.

Let’s just be honest. These kids are already professional athletes. They play D-I football or basketball to audition for the big leagues. They dedicate well over 40 hours a week to make their university millions upon millions with championships and moving on to the next level. Give them their fair share so that when they don’t make it there, which is the case for the majority of these athletes, they have something besides a rubber-stamped diploma they never had time to actually earn.

It’s what’s honest. It’s what’s fair. Thankfully, we’re a step closer with this ruling.

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