Today Northwestern players will vote on whether or not to formally form a union. This is in response to the National Labor Relations Board ruled that student athletes are in fact employees of private universities. Northwestern has already attempted to dissuade players from voting for the union but I believe their points miss the main issues at stake here.
Normally I am not in favor of unions. I see little use for them in today's society. I don't need a union to protect me at my job because if I am unhappy with my current conditions, I have the freedom to go get another job. This is the case for the majority of employees in today's society. Most of us aren't living in communities where we are all dependent on a single employer. But all of us certainly have the choice to apply for different jobs and vote with our feet.
The NCAA, however, is a different ballgame. "Student athletes" are forced to sign four (sometimes five or even six) year contracts with schools but schools only commit to students for one year at a time. If a player does decide to transfer from a school, they are forced to sit a year out for a year.
Tack on the NCAA's rule of five years to play four and you can rule out the option for a player to transfer again. Even though the idea of a player playing a year and four different schools sounds unseemly, they should have that right. I'll trust that the third and fourth school's coaches are smart enough to see the trend and refuse to accept a player who keeps school hopping.
To further complicate this process jaded coaches can effectively block a transfer by refusing to grant a player's release which does not allow a player to receive a scholarship at a new school. Meanwhile coaches' contracts aren't worth more than the paper they are written on. They are free to jump from school to school as they want to. As much as I love to have Bryan Harsin here as our head coach, it's not fair that the kids he signed at Arkansas
Arizona State don't have the same freedom to move to a different school.
However, the main reason that I believe players should unionize is to receive basic employee benefits such as workers' compensation coverage. Think about this for a second. If a student manager for a football team is involved in collision on a sideline and is injured, he would be covered by the school. If one of the players is injured during the course of the game they are not covered. That concept is insane.
In The Atlantic's 2011 article titled The Shame of College Sports, the story of TCU running back Kent Waldrep was told. In a 1974 game against Alabama he was paralyzed on a sweep play. TCU picked up his medical bills for 9 months and then stopped paying. In the 90's he sued TCU claiming he was in fact an employee but was denied medical benefits due to the fact that he did not pay taxes on his financial aid. Does that seem right to you?
The article also explains why the NCAA came up with the term "student athlete." It came into play in the 1950's in it's defense against a workers' compensation claim by the widow of a player named Ray Dennison. He was killed while playing for the Fort Lewis A&M Aggies in Colorado. The Colorado Supreme Court eventually ruled against her because the school was "not in the football business." I don't think that argument would stand today.
This is not an argument to pay players. This is an argument that players are already compensated for their efforts and should be given the basic liberties and protections that any other employee in America. The NCAA should lift their heads out of the sand and make these concessions without forcing players to form unions but we all know that is unlikely to happen. However, before they realize it, their entire kingdom could come crumbling down.