What’s missing from the rash of news reports and blog posts about the NLRB’s ruling allowing scholarship football players at Northwestern to vote on whether to join a union is an explanation of why the athletes want a union.
When we train employers on how to stay non-union, we focus on two things: fair compensation and appreciation of work done. Apparently, the NCAA rules allow for neither, and that is the problem.
I was surprised to read that the players don’t necessarily want to be paid as employees. What they want is to be guaranteed a spot at the school with paid tuition until they graduate, or perhaps some incentives by the schools to get them to complete their educations. Apparently they are also hungry and the rules limit how much food the schools can provide. They want medical coverage for sports related injuries, especially those that might last way after their school years end.
They also have safety concerns, including better procedures to reduce head injuries. They want to stay at school if they are injured or their sports-career is not successful. And finally, they would also like to be able to pursue commercial sponsorships much like Olympic athletes do, to cash in on their “15-minutes” of fame and defray some of the costs associated with sports. For example, college athletes do not have time to get part-time jobs and many sports have NCAA rules that actually prevent them from doing so.
What these athletes want is pretty darn reasonable, and right now they don’t have a seat at the table to get the issues addressed in any significant way. They feel used and abused, and that is always a problem.
Is a union the answer to these real issues? Most of the pundits say no. And the slippery slope of finding student athletes to be employees is a steep one. But should the NCAA rules be revised to address some of these issues? You bet. That is a point everyone seems to agree on.