NCAA president Mark Emmert, in a rambling statement at the Final Four in Arlington, Texas, over the weekend, said the idea of college athletes unionizing is a “grossly inappropriate” way to fix the problems of college sports.
As Emmert put it, “it would blow up everything about the collegiate model of athletics.”
Which is sort of the point of the thing, isn’t it?
Emmert’s comment that the players forming a union is “grossly inappropriate” really hit a nerve with me.
You know who else thought something was “grossly inappropriate” once upon a time? The plantation owners of the 19th century thought it was “grossly inappropriate” to demand they actually pay their labor force and afford them basic human rights.
And before you get yourself all worked up, no I am not comparing being a college athlete in the 21st century to being a plantation slave in the 19th century, because it’s not even close to a 1-to-1 comparison.
But the argument against changing the system to give the people working in the system a more equitable share of the fruits of their labor? Identical.
On the other hand, what did we expect Emmert to say? That he welcomes the idea of changes to a system that would likely eliminate the need for his role and the $1.8 million annual salary that comes with it?
For the record, I’m not sure the unionization model is perfect for college athletics, but given that nothing will change as long as the athletes themselves don’t have a real, representative voice in the governance of the system, I can’t come up with a better one.
Without the leverage to bargain—and the College Athletes Players Association would provide that—nothing substantial will change for college athletes and, call me crazy, but I don’t think a scholarship—many of which come with strings attached such as the ability to have it taken away from year to year if it is deemed you’re not performing well enough on the field—is adequate compensation for the talent upon whose back those billions of dollars in television and advertising revenue come pouring in.
Former NCAA president Walter Byers admitted that the term “student-athlete” that administrators, coaches and the media throws around was created by the NCAA as a defense for being liable for workers compensation benefits.
The student-athlete defense became the shield for the NCAA and its member universities against claims for workers compensation death benefits and workers compensation for catastrophic injuries sustained while engaged in athletic activities while representing the school.
The NCAA throws around the term “student-athlete” to portray the image it wants to portray, of amateurs competing in friendly athletic competition for the good old alma mater.
I’m sorry, but when coaches are getting millions of dollars a year in salary and even more in bonuses from shoe companies and other endorsement deals, that’s not an amateur activity.
When television networks are paying literally billions of dollars for the rights to televise these friendly athletic competitions, there is nothing amateur about them.
And when these “student-athletes” can have their student status terminated for reasons that have nothing to do with their performance in the classroom and everything to do with their performance on the field or court, that’s not amateur, either.
You want to know what’s “grossly inappropriate?” Paying a guy almost $2 million a year to administrate a “non-profit” organization, that’s what.