This past week, we witnessed a monumental moment in the history of college athletics: the Northwestern Football Team won their case in the Chicago District of the National Labor Relations Board and were ruled to be employees of the university. This can be the first step in college athletes being paid and being deemed employees.
The debate over whether college athletes from revenue-generating sports — Division I football and basketball — are employees and deserve to be paid has been one of the biggest hot-button issues in college sports for years. The NCAA is a multi-billion dollar business every year and almost everyone that helps generate that revenue gets a piece of that multi-billion dollar pie. Mark Emmert, the President of the NCAA, made about $1.7 million last year. The universities with big-time football and basketball programs generate hundreds of millions of dollars worth of revenue a year.
The only people who aren’t getting any of that pie are the players, the life blood of the NCAA. Without the quality players, the NCAA and all that money could not survive. Some claim that these college athletes are fairly compensated because they get a college scholarship and the opportunity to get a quality education.
I’m saying that scholarship is not enough. There are students who receive free or cheaper educations who don’t make a dime for their universities. This includes students on academic scholarships, music scholarships and athletic scholarships from sports that aren’t revenue generators.
Another aspect of the lives of these athletes is their lack of opportunities to have any extra cash inflow. Division I college basketball and football players both spend about 40 hours a week on average just on athletic-related activities — it’s a full-time job. These athletes don’t have time for a part-time job like normal college students. There are also rules restricting how much money student athletes can make at their part-time jobs.
It also must be pointed out the demographic discrepancies between these athletes and normal college students: A large percentage of college basketball and football players are minorities and a lot of them come from poorer families. Many of these athletes often don’t have the luxury of their parents being able to send them a little extra money here or there because their families are so financially limited.
Some of the top-notch athletes in these sports have a market value in the hundreds of thousands to even millions. I’m not saying these athletes should make anywhere near that kind of money in college, but they deserve a little extra in terms of a stipend to help with miscellaneous expenses. There’s no reason these athletes — who help generate so much money — cannot afford to go out and get a burger or go see a movie with their friends.
It’s foolish to think these athletes are simply amateur student athletes. The NCAA is being extremely hypocritical by emphasizing them as students first even though some of their largest revenue generators like March Madness or the College Football Bowl season can have players missing such significant chunks of semesters. They also allow student athletes to major in easier topics that will not help the overwhelming majority of them who do not become professional athletes to get a job or become useful members of society after they graduate.
These athletes are obviously employees. As of now, groups trying to advocate for these players’ rights like Northwestern are not even asking for pay. They just want to be considered employees and be allowed to unionize and collectively bargain for better rights and benefits. The scholarships of these athletes are not guaranteed for all four years. They are evaluated on a year-to-year basis. If a player suffers an injury that prevents them from playing, they could lose their scholarship. They also have no post-college protection if they face problems after their playing career due to issues from their years at the school. At the very least, these athletes should be able to bargain for better rights and benefits but this probably will and should lead to them getting paid.