For those of you that believe that college athletes should be paid for their contribution to the school on the field, court, ice, pool or pitch, Monday’s decision by the National Labor Relations Board to not assert its jurisdiction in the Northwestern University case may have been the first nail in the proverbial coffin for the college athletes pursuit of a paycheck.
Rewind a bit, looking to better the lives of student-athletes, the Northwestern University football team unionized in April of 2014. The student-athletes claimed that they spent 40 hours a week training for collegiate sports, thus employees of the university. The NLRB ruled, initially, that the Northwestern players were considered employees for the purposes of collective bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act.
According to The New York Times, the average athletic department at a Division I school ballooned to $56 million in 2012 from $6.5 million in 1970. Athletes are left on the outside looking in as broadcasting and marketing rights profit only the NCAA and the college. While, according to The Atlantic, the highest paid state employee in 40 of the 50 states is either a football or basketball coach at a public university.
The numbers are staggering to say the least, but Division I coaches bring in over 100 student-athletes a year. Academia is constantly in pursuit of more money and football is the quickest route to additional funds. Many could argue that coaches should be on the lower end of the pay scale, but most professors aren’t out in the community recruiting for their school. So paying coaches for two jobs, teacher and recruiter, seems reasonable based on success.
In August of 2014, a federal judge in California ruled that the NCAA could not block colleges from paying their student athletes. This stemmed from a lawsuit led by former UCLA college basketball player Ed O’Bannon that looked to receive compensation from the NCAA and Electronic Arts using college athletes likenesses in video games. The NCAA appealed the ruling in the ninth circuit with a three-judge panel hearing an oral argument in March. No ruling has happened yet, but if it stands, college football and basketball players are likely to receive a settlement of $60 million dollars from the NCAA and Electronic Arts.
Another lawsuit that was filed in March of 2014 accuses the NCAA and the ‘Power 5’ Conferences of ruling a price-fixing cartel with the grant-in-aid scholarship system stating that the Sherman Antitrust Act was violated due to the limited compensation student-athletes receive.
But on Monday, a 5-0 decision from the NLRB to not get involved with the Northwestern case is a loss in the pay-for-play pursuit. Although the NLRB did state that the decision only involved the specific case in question but did not limit others from filing for unionization.
As someone that opposes the idea of paying players for their athletic endeavors, I do believe that compensation to athletes in regards to a stipend or account to be used through the school or university are viable options. A school store would allow players to shop for items that they could purchase at any retail store, but would allow the institution to track where that money was being spent.
I know that many of you would compare this to old coal mining companies that paid employees with store credit for items that the employer sells, the idea would be less crooked than the past. The NCAA could audit the schools for what they charge the players and penalize the institution for overcharging, if apparent. I would think that the school’s would allow players to purchase practically anything under the sun, except for tobacco, alcohol and drugs (legal or otherwise).
Another plus to going to a school store is that it could prevent elite schools from out-pricing the smaller universities by having incentives for recruits to sign at the school. If schools with a stronger revenue base could pay their players more money, programs like Minnesota and NDSU would be unable to compete in the NCAA.
I believe that in the future college athletes will be compensated with more than an education. The NCAA and universities haven’t found the answer quite yet, but I encourage the discussion from the players. Hopefully, the new system will be a success that keeps the competitive balance across the college sports landscape without destroying an entertaining event.