Like an earthquake shaking a foundation, a March 26 ruling by the Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board shuddered college athletics.
At the heart of the board’s ruling was the following idea: College athletes should be considered employees of their respective institutions, and thus, may unionize.
While the Board’s decision will undoubtedly be appealed in the coming months, it is my belief that the ruling should be upheld.
Consider the following background information and arguments.
At the heart of the pro-unionization argument is the contention that today’s college athletes no longer fit the definition of ‘traditional student.’
Required to spend hours every day training and preparing for upcoming athletic events, today’s college athletes are, in effect, school employees.
They work to produce a product, in this case a sporting event, which in turn generates money for their university.
Under the National Labor Relations Act, employees have the right to unionize. Thus, college players argue, they should have the right to unionize as well.
Standing at the opposite end of the spectrum are those against the unionization of college athletes, who utilize a student-first argument.
Firmly supported by the NCAA, its conferences and its member institutions, anti-unionization supporters point to the fact that college athletes are students first.
“We want our student athletes…focused on what matters most - - finding success in the classroom, on the field and in life,” said NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy.
In other words, college athletes attend their institutions to receive the benefit of an education. Any benefit they garner to their university should be secondary. Athletics are almost like an extra-curricular activity, the argument goes. Embrace academics and play sports if you can.
Why ruling must stand
While the anti-unionization argument may be appealing on an idealistic level, it loses clout in light of the facts.
More often than not, college athletes are expected to prioritize on-field performance. Sure, academics are nice, but a college athletic program’s ability to sell tickets, lock up TV deals and receive corporate sponsorships is far more important.
What this really comes down to is that college athletes have been lining the pockets of NCAA executives, conference presidents and college athletic directors.
On so many levels, the arrangement reeks of a type of exploitation that has become all too common in free-market, corporate America.
Corporate bigwigs live large while workers are exploited for monetary gain.
While I am certain that allowing college athletes to unionize will not completely alleviate their exploitation at the hands of the NCAA, it is my hope that the formation of unions could help.
Thus, I would urge courts to uphold the Chicago district of the Labor Relation Board’s recent ruling. Lets give college athletes the ability to come together and fight the corporate monster that is the NCAA.