Student athletes ... should they be paid?
The term "student-athlete" has come into question lately. Northwestern University football players claimed that they were employees of the university and should have the right to unionize and be paid.
Peter Sung Ohr, regional director for Region 13 of the National Labor Relations Board, agreed with them and ruled them employees of the university.
He also stated they should be granted the right to unionize. He claimed that the NCAA is hiding behind the term "student-athlete."
The argument against the NCAA is that in order for a student to be a student-athlete, the student part has to come first. Ohr and others who are fighting for college athletes to be paid, claim that it's actually the athlete part of the term coming first instead of the student.
Advocates of allowing athletes to unionize say that in reality, a man or woman playing college basketball or football at the highest level is really an "athlete-employee-entertainer-student" in that order.
However, they claim that the "jig" is up for the NCAA after Ohr's ruling and the Ed O'Bannon class-action lawsuit which contests the use of college athletes' likeness without compensation.
For them, they say the NCAA can either "cling to its Byzantine rule book and lawyer up to maintain the fantasy land of the current model, or it can adapt and evolve."
In essence, the argument is for athletes to receive compensation beyond just the means of scholarships.
One of the basic claims to justify this is that for people who watch NCAA sporting events, "it is like going to the movies." Advocators say that it requires a "willful suspension of disbelief for a few hours."
The only real question for people who support paying the players is how to do it. One thought is that it might be easiest to let someone else do it other than the colleges and universities.
This solution is based on the understanding that paying athletes in a legitimate fashion is a complicated situation.
Defenders of the athletes say that "if someone is willing to pay for Johnny Manziel's autograph, then let him take the money and keep his eligibility." That is an example of how their potential solution could work.
Another example deals with profits from jersey sales even when the players' names are not on them.
They argue the question, "Does anyone in the college sports industrial complex really think someone bought a No. 2 Texas A&M jersey not knowing it was Manziel's?"
In cases like these, advocates say that the players should get paid some of the profit. Deals like these could be negotiated on an individual or by collective bargaining agreements.
Ohr deeply argued that it is "maddening" that coaches and the schools benefit so much financially while the athletes barely have the money to live on.
He also noted that Northwestern football earned the university $76 million in combined profit from 2003-12. A football scholarship at the university is worth $61,000-$76,000 a year.
The regional board that Ohr is on doesn't specify pay-for-play, but only that a union could collectively bargain at a private university such as Northwestern.
Collective bargaining at state-funded universities is subject to state law. However, it still applies pressure to the NCAA.
Some law experts who support this movement for athletes say that college sports may be in the process of collapsing under itself if things aren't updated by the NCAA.
"The whole system is built on a fallacy," they claim. The term "student-athlete" was just a name given to the athletes to protect the NCAA from any legal issues.
"While the football coaches, and the employer as a whole, appear to value the players' academic education, it is clear that the players are controlled to such a degree that it does impact their academic pursuits to a certain extent," wrote Ohr.
Ohr points out that if it is happening like this at universities such as Northwestern, which has the highest graduation at 97 percent, imagine what is going on at powerhouse conference schools.
He states that the NCAA has to realize the winds of change are beginning to blow.
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