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January 30, 2014

The Northwestern football players who are taking a stand appear to be gaining support from student/athletes and many fans across the country.  Now the question: will the support be enough to change the NCAA’s approach to compensating them beyond their scholarships?

The argument from Northwestern stems from what the players are calling “a dictatorship” because the NCAA dictates terms to its member schools and the thousands of college athletes.  They say this leaves the student/athletes with little or no say about financial compensation to the athletes or even their safety.

The football players have gone so far as to stand side by side with the United Steel Workers Union.  The Steel Workers Union will be advising the players in their efforts to get things changed and soon.  The Union is very clear in their recommendation to the players, they want “fairness” for student/athletes from an organization (NCAA) that is making millions off their backs with very little in return.  The union is calling it “gross undervaluation”.

One of the Northwestern football players who will be challenging the NCAA is QB Kain Colter.  Colter is a part of the College Athletes Players Association and he says, “the current model represents a dictatorship.”  He may be right.  The NCAA is a very big organization and makes a ton of money, though it is hard to know exactly how much they generate since they don’t like to talk about it.  The NCAA is very clear where they stand on the union situation though…forget it!  The statement they released this week stated, “Student/Athletes are not employees, and we are confident the National Labor Relations Board will find in our (NCAA) favor, as there is no right to organize student/athletes.”   The statement is very clear…the student/athletes are at their institutions to get an “education.”  I have a feeling CAPA and the Union Steel Workers Union will have something to say about that statement soon.

As for the money made by the NCAA, the basketball tournament alone is a cash cow.  CBS and TBS are paying the NCAA $10.6 billion for the 14 year contract.  So from that alone, the NCAA will not be standing in the soup line anytime soon and the member institutions are getting a nice check as well.  The Orlando Sentinel reported recently that college football programs are also bringing in some big dollars, especially the big time programs like Ohio State ($51.8 million) and Texas ($121 million).  In fact, the top 22 programs in Division I college football averaged $22.1 million per program. 

Now before anyone takes sides, let’s remember, it not cheap to run today’s athletics programs.  The NCAA reported that only 14 institutions out of 1100 actually made money last year and there is a huge gap between the big time programs and the mid majors and smaller institutions.  Now that’s what the NCAA says.  So if that’s true, where is all the money going?  According to NCAA President Mark Emmert, “96 percent of the $700 million they will make off the TV contracts goes to the member institutions.”   There are still some questions on the math being used by the NCAA because he never talks about the actual profits made by the NCAA just the TV contract.

The National College Players Association argues student/athletes are way more valuable than the scholarships they receive.   They say football players alone would be worth $121,000 per year and basketball players are worth $265,000. The larger institutions will argue their players are worth more but if you take the NCPA on face value, the student/athletes are being robbed big time because what they get in scholarship money barely pays for tuition and books. 

So the key issue is whether these Northwestern football players are “employees” as defined by federal law as the United Steel Workers claim or are they nothing more than “student/athletes” getting an education? 

The NCAA continues to be under the microscope because of the rules they enforce over “amateurism”.  There is a class action lawsuit in California filed by former players wanting a cut of the pie from TV revenue, video game sales and memorabilia.  Many of those players are also seeking damages from the NCAA because they say the organization hasn’t done enough to protect them from head injuries.

So what’s the answer and what’s fair to the student/athletes?  If it’s up to the NCAA, nothing will change anytime soon.  If CAPA and the United Steel Workers have their way, student/athletes will be compensated because they say “treating players better is only going to improve the product.  This is not going to change what is all good in college sports.”   Many claim the student/athletes are getting paid, it’s called a scholarship!

We shall see.

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