What Northwestern Players Want

Submitted by MGlobules on January 29th, 2014 at 9:55 AM

There was a lot of reaction here to the news that Northwestern football players are seeking to form a union. 

Their charge is that the NCAA, while raking in extraordinary sums of money through the years, has time and again refused to even discuss affording players basic protections for their services, according to CBS analyst Jeremy Fowler. 

"This is about basic services for athletes working 40-plus hours a week on football. They want medical care and concussion reform to accommodate a violent sport. If someone two years removed from the college game needs to repair a knee injury sustained while playing. . . CAPA wants that surgery covered," writes Fowler. 

Six billion dollars is coming in over the next 12 years for the emerging football playoff, before TV is figured in. 

The question is whether the National Labor Relations Board is going to certify that the players have rights as employees. An "overwhelming" portion of the NW football team has signed on. The article also says that Georgia players are considering taking part. 

I don't know if a civil discussion can be conducted about this matter. But I do know that it's important to college football and sports in general. I don't see how, if we're going to mirror the landscape at all here, we can avoid giving this attention. Like it or no, this question of whether, why, and how to remunerate college athletes has legs.


A backgrounder: http://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/eye-on-college-football/244227…


SF Wolverine

January 29th, 2014 at 10:06 AM ^

I would tell them to get out in front of some of this stuff.  I do not think that the union is ever going to be certified, but some of their "asks" are pretty damned reasonable:  (1) if I get hurt playing this sport so you can make $$, please take care of me on a somewhat longer-term basis; (2) make sure that there is some form of "due process" before you yank my scholarship so the next big five-star recruit can get a slot; (3) make sure you make reasonable provisions for me to actually get the degree that is supposed to be the quid pro quo for me playing. 

I'm no fan of "pay to play," but they make a pretty compelling case for things that it seems to me the schools should do, and could afford to do -- after all, they have tens of millions for ADs, coaches, marketing departments, etc.


January 29th, 2014 at 10:11 AM ^

I agree.  It isn't a bunch of kids asking for thousands of dollars for fun; medical coverage for injuries sustained while in school and a couple of protections from scholarship revocation don't seem unreasonable.  Admittedly, I understand the difficulty in determining what may have caused an injury while in college and what exacerbated was condition after-the-fact will be difficult, but they all seem reasonable with some oversight.  Of course, the NCAA will just keep slamming its balls in the door and try to portray a bunch of college kids as greedy while they pay bowl sponsors obscene amounts of money for what amounts to partying and schmoozing.


January 29th, 2014 at 10:23 AM ^

I don't have a problem with the basic asks and for the most part agree that the NCAA and the schools can do themselves a lot of good by getting out in front on these issues.  

However, the union thing scares me as it will absolutely not end with these original asks and will only cause acrimony.  I hope the NCAA takes this as a warning shot and does what it takes to keep the athlete's from organizing.  And by does what it takes mean work to fulfill the very reasonable asks presented in the original complaint.


January 29th, 2014 at 10:25 AM ^

Oh, I agree about the union being a bad idea in terms of the mechanism; it feels like a hammer when you need a fly-swatter.  But there are only so many reasonable legal theories the players could attempt in this circumstance, and portraying themselves as employees is reasonable if it gets them into court for a discussion.  What I remember about labor law from law school, though, this will be a tough sell.


January 29th, 2014 at 11:35 AM ^

If concussion is such a big issue, why are basketball players being included? Why are soccer players not part of this deal where they also have concussion problems? Why are only sports that generate revenue part of this? There are other athletes who are getting "paid" with scholarships. Why are they worth less?

If you believe this is about health of student athletes and not about being paid, I have a frozen bridge you may be interested in.


January 29th, 2014 at 12:12 PM ^

It's probably about a bunch of things.  The fact that the NCAA won't even give them ongoing healthcare and protections from somewhat-arbitrary scholarship revocations should be equally concerning.  I'm sure that other scholarship athletes want the same protections; unfortunately, who around the AD's office cares what a gymnast or water polo player has to say?


Mabel Pines

January 29th, 2014 at 2:21 PM ^

for all injuries sustained in college would shortly bankrupt many schools.  Wouldn't this include all knee and hip replacements as they age?  What about migranes from concussions?  I doubt it's feasible to care for injured student athletes for the rest of their lives. 

What about their Health insurance when they get jobs?  Will they be covered through their prior University and employer?   They would fight with each other over who pays for what.  This seems like a big mess.  I hope they work something out...



January 29th, 2014 at 9:13 PM ^

Agreed.  And i agree with the idea that a wise NCAA would get out in front with this, and create some sort of insurance scheme or trust to deal with it.  Financing it with the proceeds from the NCAA basketball tournament and the football playoff seems like it would be fairer to the students at the poorer schools than forcing the schools to pay for it (though money is fungible).


January 29th, 2014 at 12:49 PM ^

I was wondering this too. If a scholly is compensation to make a player an employee, I have to imagine universities may take a long hard look at not giving the one year scholarships a walk-on might earn. Especially if it involves all the hassle of making them an official employee and if it puts the university on the hook for medical care the player might need even in the many years to come.


January 29th, 2014 at 10:03 AM ^

Injuries that are the clear result of residual affect of football even years later should be covered. The fact that they aren't is troubling, and is pathetic in my opinion.


January 29th, 2014 at 10:13 AM ^

I 100% agree and this is coming from someone who polically is far more "Section One" than "ChiTownBlue".

Frankly I'm a bit shocked it wasnt being covered.  I guess naively I thought injuries sustained while playing college football would be addressed/corrected by the school even after the player had competed his elegibility.

Colin M

January 29th, 2014 at 1:09 PM ^

Given your more conservative leanings, you should read this piece by Gary Becker: http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/2011/04/the-ncaa-as-a-powerful-cartel…

Becker is a conservative economist at The University of Chicago who has typically argued for low taxes, less government spending, and less regulation. Here, he argues that the status quo is contrary to free market principles and to US anti-trust law. Law professor Richard Posner has a companion piece that is linked to at the top of Becker's column.

Anyways, I'm not angling for a political debate on free markets. I just thought you might find this line of argumentation interesting given your stated predisposition.

PB-J Time

January 29th, 2014 at 1:09 PM ^

I agree with this in theory, but to what end?

If someone sustains a chondral (cartilege) injury to their knee during their playing days, should their knee replacement in 25 years be covered? This is the long term result of the injury (in this scenario), and who pays for this? Interesting idea, but limits need to be applied

*disclaimer-this is coming from someone who has seen mulitple people have worker's compensation cover knee replacements from work injuries over 20 years old (and a couple of revision knee replacements as well)


January 29th, 2014 at 10:11 AM ^

Sounded like coverages for medical expenses plus a guaranteed 5th year of college tuition.

We'll see how they go with this though as scholarship athletes really aren't employees of the university anymore than students with academic scholarships are. Both are given a scholarship in exchange for their service to the university


January 29th, 2014 at 10:35 AM ^

I can get onboard with wanting more coverage for medical expenses.  I don't agree about the free grad school.  What they're saying is they want to work for four years and get paid five.

As a ROTC student I had four years of undergrad paid for and had to give four years back when I was done.  If I wanted grad school too, that was extra service time.  Why should football players be any different?


January 29th, 2014 at 11:48 AM ^

Yes, I did.  Can you tell me what the difference is between football and ROTC that means football players should get extra free school for no extra time?  You could say that football demands more of a student's time than ROTC, and it does, right up until graduation when the time demand shifts considerably.  You could say that football players are more likely to get hurt, and they are, but getting hurt in ROTC is not exactly unheard of and if you do, you get the boot, not a "medical scholarship" and medical care until graduation.


January 29th, 2014 at 12:00 PM ^

He may be referring to $$$ generated by football vs ROTC.  

This is an argument I hear a lot - football players should get more because look how much money they generate.  The two problems I have with that are 1) do the players really generate the money?  Half of the Michigan fans I know barely know the names most of the guys playing. And might not know a single one before the season starts, but they'll watch every game regardless of which players are playing.  I know all of their names, but my fandom doesn't vary based on who shows up on the roster every year.  And 2) what about the programs that don't generate money?  What about a EMU football player or a GVSU football player on scholarship?  What about a Michigan baseball player on scholarship?  None of those guys are generating any money.  Do they need more benefits as well?  Because based on the "money generated" argument, they shouldn't.


January 29th, 2014 at 12:17 PM ^

I think the issue with #1 is that even if you don't know the players' names, you do expect them to be "good" at football.  If the UM football team cratered because they recruited really bad players, people would stop coming to the games and the school would lose money.  So the individual player may not always generate easily-trackable revenue (though obviously there are some who do), but in totality having a talented backup RB means your team plays well, and that's why fans come to games.  Note how few people gave a crap about the basketball team when LaVell Blanchard and Gavin Groninger were playing versus now.  That's really money; the only reason we haven't seen th same issue with football at UM is becuase, well, the team hasn't ever been consistently bad.  


January 29th, 2014 at 1:17 PM ^

Ahhh...that's one of the principles of a union, though, isn't it?  At least, it used to be.  Equality among co-workers.  If they join the union, they earn the same wage.  Now, in a pay-for-play model (which I hate the idea of), maybe a fifth year senior is paid X times that of a first year freshman.  

For the record, I don't see any possibility for a pay-for-play system working in college athletics.  I think the universities would go back to a non-scholarship model before they started paying all of their varsity student athletes.  

Either scenario is a nightmare.  


January 29th, 2014 at 12:04 PM ^

I'm not denigrating your service or sacrifice.  I agree that for every limitation (time) on a football player's education, there's a benefit (tutoring).  There is a lot of give and take in that conversation, for sure.  

My only point is that you can't compare any other college experience to those of a college football or basketball player.  Depending on the school, some other sports may come close (baseball, hockey, wrestling, etc.).  There just isn't any comparison, when you consider the revenue involved.  

Unless your ROTC program was worth the kind of money that these football teams are, the same rules don't apply.  That's all I was saying.

According to Forbes Magazine, there were 5 college football teams worth more than $100M this year.  Michigan came in at #5.  


Sorry, man.  I just always get a laugh out of comments like that - "it wasn't that way for me, why should it be that way for them".  

When you play a sport that generates that kind of dough, let's talk.  


January 29th, 2014 at 12:59 PM ^

Don't worry, I didn't take it as a denigration of service and sacrifice and such.  I'm thinking more along the lines of putting in terms of the Northwestern players' argument, which is, why should we not get grad school paid for just because we were lucky enough to play freshman year?  I just think they want two trips to the cookie jar.  In two ways, actually - one by what we've been talking about, which is getting paid five years for four years' worth of work.  But then there's the argument that they bring in more revenue than swimmers or wrestlers and such, which they do.  But that's also why swimmers and wrestlers have no opportunities to earn huge piles of cash later on.  Great, it just so happens your talent is in a sport that people care about instead of one that people don't - I don't see that as a reason to add freebies that other equally hard-working athletes don't get.  Higher career earning potential and by the way, the exposure you get from playing at Michigan instead of Wayne State, is pretty fair compensation.  Along the same lines as there being a ridiculous demand for internships at Google and Goldman Sachs and such and not so much for companies you've never heard of.


January 29th, 2014 at 1:13 PM ^

As I wrote before, I'm with you on the 5 year thing.  Currently, B1G offers 4 year scholarships.  That's awfully fair.  

As far as continued care and who would apply, there's a lot of great questions in there.  

  • Where is the line drawn?  Revenue generating sports only?  
  • Or do they draw the line at only universities that operate in the black?  That would only be two or three NCAA institutions (Texas, OSU, and Michigan, I think)
  • With Title IX, can they even draw the line anywhere?  I'm sure it would have to apply to all equally.  
  • Would committing to care after their playing careers cause schools to reduce the number of scholarships (to meet Title IX req's)?
  • Would this cause schools to go back to a non-scholarship athletic program?  Imagine that - kids acquiring their own financial aid to get through school.  How many early entrants to the pro drafts would we see in that model?
  • Does this push the support needed to create the big 4 (football conferences) for their own playoff subdivision?  This would separate the haves and the have-nots.  

This is definitely going to be an interesting debate, which will be argued by people much smarter than me.  

Get your popcorn ready!


January 29th, 2014 at 10:14 AM ^

and become paid players there's a whole gauntlet of crap they'll have to deal with. Union dues. Taxes. What's a scholly worth? $200k? That's taxable. On top of that how much do they want in compensation? That's taxable too. Now that they're being paid their amateur status is gone. Why even go to school? Now it's just minor league football.

I'm all for medical expenses paid for injuries received or problems stemming from that down the road but there's a shit ton more b.s. that goes into this than these guys getting a few more bucks in their pockets than they already do. Run-on sentence be damned.


January 29th, 2014 at 11:27 AM ^

Only the pocket money part is taxable. And I'm sure it's already taxed. It's kind of insane to suggest they shouldn't want to get paid because they wouldn't get 100% of the nominal amount of the payment. Do you reject paychecks at work because you'd have to pay taxes on them?


January 29th, 2014 at 11:40 AM ^

Totally different.  Their pay amount wouldn't go up, but it would all of a sudden become taxable.  So they would get 50k in education, and then have to pay 10k the following April, who knows from what money.  

What the above poster is saying is that if they unionize, their scholarship would be taxable.  If you're claiming that you're an employee because playing football is your labor and your scholarship is your income, then you need to take the downside to being an employee - paying taxes on your income.  


January 29th, 2014 at 10:15 AM ^

When the Vince McMahon Sr come to the Sheik he says sheik, you must drop the belt to the blond Hollywood hogan. The raisin balls blonde never be iron sheik class, but the McMahon sr tell the sheik he has to.


January 29th, 2014 at 10:20 AM ^

I say let the college players be paid.

But in return let them pay for their tuition, housing, meals, training fees, schedule their own tutoring, etc., etc., on and on......

I'm just never going to feel much sympathy for a D-1 all expenses paid athlete.



January 29th, 2014 at 10:35 AM ^

If some overly zealous judge somewhere rules that football players are employees first and not students first this is were I see this going.

For starters I don't see how that status will stop at football players and will imply to all atheletes in all sports.  If that's the case why would you keep any sports that don't pay for themselves, so a lot of non revenue sports will probably go away.

Secondly you would have to pay players like regular employees so scholarships will probably go away.  In which case you will probably see teams that are very loosely aligned with schools where players are paid based on their worth and they will be expected to turn around and pay their own tuition.  If all this happens I wouldn't be surprised if schools are allowed to trade and cut atheletes much like we see in other minor and professional leagues.  

I don't mean to sound like an alarmist but the difference in being treated like a student first, if only in name only, to truly being seen and treated like an employee first are huge.


January 29th, 2014 at 11:43 AM ^

For those who don't know Jon06, pay no attention to him during arguments.  He contributes nothing, but will repeatedly tell everyone how much smarter he is than everyone else.  


January 29th, 2014 at 10:45 AM ^

I think the real 'damage' so to speak is going to be all other athletes in non-revenue sports and/or at non large universities. I just don't see many schools except the largest being able to fund a professional football team, let alone 30 professional sports. That's gonna mean there are gong to be A LOT kids not getting scholly's out there who currently are. That would be very sad.