The beginning of the end of college sports as we know it

I suspect today will be remembered as a seminal event in making college athletics whatever it will become; and it will be something much different than it is today.

Northwestern’s football team is free to seek union representation to bargain with the University, according to a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board.

During the labor board hearing, CAPA and former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, who spearheaded the movement, had to prove that players were employees and not just student-athletes. These are the points that ended up convincing the board to let them unionize:

  • Northwestern profits from football players’ work. The decision notes that the university made $235 million in revenue thanks to ticket sales, television contracts, merchandise sales, and other licensing agreements from 2003 to 2012, along with less measurable but still important value in the form of alumni donations and the university’s general reputation.

  • Players are compensated for that work. Players receive scholarships and stipends in exchange for playing football for the university. Players sign a “tender” at the beginning of each scholarship period that tells them the rules and conditions of their scholarship; it is in effect, the board says, an employment contract. If a player leaves the team or abuses team rules, the scholarship can be revoked—proof that the compensation is based on playing football.

  • Northwestern exerts significant control over players’ daily lives. Players spent 50 to 60 hours a week on football-related activities during training camp and 40 to 50 hours a week during the regular season, easily equivalent to a full-time job. The decision says players’ schedules, including practices, meals, games, and travel, were often up to coaches, while other things like living arrangements, outside employment, personal vehicle use, off-campus travel, internet posting, and alcohol use were subject to restrictions or coach permission thanks to NCAA rules and university policies.

The underlined and bolded part is the key, I think. While Northwestern’s players say they don’t want salary, but other types of benefits, it seems only a matter of time. Past blogging on the general issue of the economics of colleges sports here, and my proposal for how players in revenue sports could be paid.

About Don Taylor
Professor of Public Policy at Duke University (with appointments in Business, Nursing, Community and Family Medicine, and the Duke Clinical Research Institute). I am one of the founding faculty of the Margolis Center for Health Policy, and currently serve as Chair of Duke's University Priorities Committee (UPC). My research focuses on improving care for persons who are dying, and I am co-PI of a CMMI award in Community Based Palliative Care. I teach both undergrads and grad students at Duke. On twitter @donaldhtaylorjr

2 Responses to The beginning of the end of college sports as we know it

  1. Pingback: Ruling against the NCAA | freeforall

  2. Pingback: Ruling Against the NCAA

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