Today, a regional branch of the National Labor Relations Board took the first step toward what could become seismic changes in college sports by approving a request by Northwestern football players to unionize. This was initiated a while back, you’ll recall, by now-graduated Wildcats’ QB Kain Colter.
At the risk of coming off an angry old white man, let me — A Rob, that is; I won’t say I speak for Bizzle — just say that I don’t like where this is going. I agree with the general idea that the NCAA and its member schools have screwed this whole thing up royally by emphasizing the ‘athlete’ part of their beloved ‘student-athlete’ term far too much, with sham majors for athletes to remain eligible, conference realignment decisions driven solely by money and the ever-rising TV contracts the schools have inked with media outlets. No one will ever hear me say the system as currently constructed is working, because it clearly isn’t.
However, I don’t follow college sports to see pro athletes. If I wanted to see athletes be paid ever-expanding sums for their efforts, I would (and do) watch the pros. It’s an objectively better product. I watch college sports to see kids playing, at least in theory, for their schools. I know to some extent this is not the way it is, as many players are simply using college to build their stock for the pros, but in a lot of cases, they aren’t. I don’t make a yearly pilgrimage to Notre Dame Stadium to see paid athletes, because if I wanted to do that, I’d go to Lucas Oil to watch the Colts, or to Ford Field to see the Lions. I watch college sports because they’re college sports.
Now, I know that for now, Colter and his soon-to-be-unionized brethren say they aren’t looking for pay. They just want “a seat at the table”, the ability to obtain medical care down the line if long-term injury results from their playing career, etc. However, I am not stupid. This is leading towards a pay-for-play system, something I simply cannot get behind for several reasons. Only the biggest of schools actually make much money on their athletic programs, so where is this ‘pay’ going to come from, should it come to pass? Higher education costs are completely out of control as it is, so the idea of passing this ‘pay’ on to the students paying full tuition and building up absurd student loan totals is loathsome to me.
Personally, I think the onus should be on the pro leagues swimming in money to make it possible for kids coming out of high school to be paid to play sports if that’s what they’d like to do. The NFL has been living off of college football to produce pro talent forever, and the league should step up and invest in a minor league. As hockey fans have pointed out, if that sport can uphold not one, but multiple minor leagues in what many consider a ‘niche’ sport, the NFL, the biggest brand in America today, can surely manage a minor league. The rules made by the NFL and the NBA that artifically keep high-school talent from becoming pros is a much bigger issue, to my eyes, than the idea that college athletes do not receive enough for their talents. In reality, probably a fraction of one percent of all college athletes (think Johnny Manziel, Jadeveon Clowney) have more market value than they already receive with an athletic scholarship. Pretty much no college athletes outside of the handful of stars in football and men’s basketball, with rare exceptions, produce more worth than they already receive. Those players should certainly have an avenue for making money above and beyond their scholarship — endorsements, namely — if companies want to give it to them, but that money should not be the responsibility of universities or the students attending them.
If this does lead to a pay-for-play system, I don’t know what happens, personally anyway, to my college sports fandom. I adore college sports, far more than the pros, but if the athletes ARE pros, that diminishes the value of following college sports for me to near zero. As I said, if I want to watch pro athletes, I’ll watch pro athletes — not ‘professional’ college athletes.
That’s just my take, anyway. Share yours with us at any time @The__Junkies or in the comments. And keep living the sports life!