Matt Murschel on college players moving toward unionizing
When Kain Colter stood up in front of the media Tuesday, it wasn’t as a star college football player.
Those days are done, but it didn’t stop the former Northwestern quarterback from making what some believe to be a game-changing play.
What Colter did was stand up Tuesday and called for the unionization of college athletes.
It may not have been as dramatic as standing up and holding a sign with the words ‘union’ written on it as Sally Field did in the movie ‘Norma Rae,’ but the impact was just as meaningful. Although somehow I don’t think even Colter believes we will see the day when college athletes are represented by a union.
Instead, I believe Tuesday’s announcement was more about college athletes having a more prominent seat at the table with the presidents and chancellors who control the NCAA. It’s about providing a voice for the college athlete.
Colter and the group of Northwestern football players who pledged their support for the new union are just looking to foster change in a system, which is antiquated and outdated. That’s it. This isn’t about looking to cash in on the fact college football has grown into a multi-billion dollar sport.
The creation of the College Athletes Players Association is more about looking after athletes who dedicate countless hours to individual schools who, in most cases, profit from those sports. Athletes who spend 40-plus hours a week, 12-months a year crafting their sport while also trying to maintain their education.
It’s about looking after the physical needs of individuals including concussions and medical treatments for those who may not go on to play professional sports and make millions of dollars.
Colter emphasized these points on Twitter when he said, “We’re grateful for our education. At Northwestern, we work tremendously hard to receive our degrees. At the same time, a degree is not going to stop [chronic traumatic encephalopathy] we may have from concussions. A degree won’t guarantee my medical bills are paid if I need a knee replacement down the line for playing football for the school. It is clear the NCAA won't guarantee basic protections... so who will?”
The NCAA’s response was to point out unionization violates the core ideal of college athletics, which is education. That’s laughable.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe the education college athletes receive is valuable, but when you are talking about the countless hours athletes spend in the weight rooms and on the practice field while the organization, which oversees sports like college football or college basketball, which generate billions upon billions of dollars, the hypocrisy is palpable.
The NCAA is running under a model, which worked well – four decades ago – but doesn’t work within the changing landscape of the sport. It’s the reason the organization has taken a long, hard look at itself in the mirror and has called for change.
During the NCAA’s annual convention in San Diego last month, the group began moving towards creating more autonomy towards the bigger, power conferences like the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC. It’s a bold move and one predicated by those leagues commissioners who believe decisions based on athletes benefits should fall into the hands of the individual conferences.
While no moves have been cast in stone, the air of uncertainty at this critical juncture is the perfect time for Colter and his group to raise the stakes and push for a bigger role for college athletes.
A union is a bold move and one, which is already being met with resistance. Critics believe a union will lead to player strikes and have already said if college athletes don’t want to play under the current system, then step aside and somebody else will.
It’s a microscopic viewpoint and one, which won’t come into play.
Colter and his group face a long, uphill battle in legalizing of the union. Even if the National Labor Relations Board approves the move, there will be countless lawsuits and countersuits, which will have it tied up in the court system for years.
However the threat alone maybe enough to show college athletes have a voice and deserve to be heard. It’s up to the NCAA to listen.
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