The Free Press, Mankato, MN


April 3, 2014

Our View: College athletes are amateurs in name only

Why It Matters: A federal ruling that scholarship football players at Northwestern are employees may shake the very foundation of college athletics.

When an Ohio State university wrestler won the national championship in his weight class this year, the school’s athletic director pocketed an $18,000 bonus.

The wrestler himself got ... well, he got to keep his scholarship, which (wrestling being a non-revenue sport) is probably a partial grant that doesn’t come close to matching the cost of attending a Big Ten university.

It is yet another illustration of how the structure of big-time college sports exploits the athletes. There are hundreds of them.

To be sure, not every NCAA school enjoys Ohio State’s bounty. Grambling, a traditional black university in Louisiana that once turned out NFL players like an assembly line, now struggles to transport its teams from game to game.

But as a whole, the NCAA is a $6 billion a year business. As that money — coming largely from television networks chasing content viewers want to see now — escalates, so do the demands for a cut of that money.

Big schools vs. little schools. “Power conferences” vs. “mid-major conferences.” Revenue sports vs. non-revenue sports.

Athletic departments vs. athletes.

The most recent threat to the profitable but contentious status quo came last week when a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern University’s scholarship football players are indeed employees of the school and thus eligible to form a union.

This particular ruling is just the first salvo.

There will be an appeal to the full NLRB, then almost certainly years of wrangling in the courts.

Even if the ruling stands, it applies only to private schools such as Northwestern; public colleges, such as the University of Minnesota, are covered by state laws.

It seems on the face of it that the ruling accurately describes the status of scholarship players: Their academic endeavors are secondary to their athletic chores. They are compensated, not with salaries but with scholarships.

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