Morris: Unions for college athletes unlikely, unnecessary

April 4, 2014 

DO NOT JUMP to conclusions regarding the National Labor Relations Board decision last week that football players at Northwestern are employees of the university, thus opening the door for those athletes to form a union.

Northwestern is a private school. The decision was made for the benefit of football players only, and at that school, specifically. It might take years for those athletes to form a union, and likely decades for athletes at other private schools to do the same, even longer for those at public schools.

The chances that athletes will be unionized at public programs in the state of South Carolina are slim. Understand, there’s a question whether the NLRB would have jurisdiction over state law, and we all know that union members are not welcome in our fine state.

When asked about the NLRB decision a week ago, a spokesperson for Gov. Nikki Haley referred me to Haley’s Facebook page, where she posted:

“Are the unions that desperate that now they are going after college football players? I can’t help but laugh at how ridiculous it is that the NLRB is now saying college football players can unionize.”

While the NLRB ruling might never lead to the unionization of college athletes, it could go a long way to the NCAA better recognizing the needs and basic rights of its athletes.

Perhaps the biggest misperception of the NLRB’s decision was that unionization would be the first step toward paying athletes. The College Athletes Players Association, which submitted the petition to the NLRB, has not listed the payment of athletes as one of its priorities.

“College athletes are already paid to play,” said CAPA president Ramogi Huma to USA Today.

Issues that CAPA would like to address through unionization include medical coverage for athletes, an educational trust for athletes and the ability of athletes to market themselves.

Perhaps, with the CAPA’s movement on the union front, the NCAA will begin to seriously address what athletes should receive along with a full scholarship. Each of the following suggestions might also help alleviate the desire of athletes to be paid.

• First, make all full scholarships good for a four-year period. No coach talks to a high school recruit without mentioning the prospect of earning a four-year degree. Yet the scholarship offered is distributed on a year-by-year basis.

No longer should those scholarship renewals be at the whim of the coach in any sport. Athletes should not be penalized for the recruiting mistake of a coaching staff. A four-year scholarship would, effectively, eliminate the practice of “running off” athletes.

Really, if the NCAA is serious about the academic performance of its athletes, it should promise a four-year scholarship that holds firm regardless of whether the athlete continues to participate in sports.

• Next, the NCAA should amend its transfer rules. An athlete should no longer be required to sit out one full year of athletic competition upon transferring from one school to another.

Why should an athlete be penalized because he or she changes her mind about choice of schools? Why should an Anthony Gill, who transferred from USC to Virginia when the men’s basketball program changed coaches, be sentenced to one year on the sideline?

• Finally, it is time for NCAA schools to recognize that they, alone, should no longer profit from the sale of likenesses of athletes. The profit from sales of No. 7 USC football jerseys should not go solely to the athletics department.

Athletics programs should establish trust funds based on merchandise sales. Every athletics department can tally what revenue it produces from sales of merchandise. Each school could also take a percentage – say 50 percent – and place those monies in a trust fund.

A percentage of the trust fund total would be doled out to each athlete upon graduation from that school. Until an athlete graduates, he or she does not qualify for a cut of the money in the trust fund.

Of course, any and all of these concepts could be instituted by the NCAA without athletes having to form a union.

Nevertheless, it would be interesting to see unionized college athletes, if only to see how coaches would deal with recruiting athletes to states where they would not be welcome as union members.

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