Leading The Drive


Students playing for Northwestern University’s football team have taken the first steps in asking to be represented by a labor union, something that has never been done in college sports. The drive has appropriately been led by Kain Colter, the current Northwestern quarterback, and Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA linebacker who founded the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA), an advocacy group for college athletes.

“This is about finally giving college athletes a seat at the table. Athletes deserve an equal voice when it comes to their physical, academic and financial protections,” said Huma.

Right now, all Colter, his teammates and CAPA are asking for is better medical protections, fully-guaranteed scholarships that cover the full cost of attending college and won’t be taken away if an athlete is injured and can’t continue playing, as well as a fund that would pay players to continue their educations after their NCAA eligibility expires.

These are not excessive demands and frankly they are valid concerns.

“We agree that the health and academic issues being raised by our student-athletes and others are important ones that deserve further consideration,” said Jim Philips, Northwestern’s vice president of athletics and recreation, who went to say that he believes unionizing is not the appropriate way to go about getting these issues addressed.

The athletic departments for the schools that take part in the five power conferences currently make $5.15 billion, yes BILLION, in revenues yearly. This is expected to go up in the coming years due to the changes in the college football playoff structure where, for the first time, there will be playoffs in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).

Despite being the sweat and blood behind the athletic revenues for their schools, the only compensation that athletes get in return is their scholarships, which can be revoked, if they can no longer play due to injury or other medical reasons

With an organization making all of this money and the athletes making almost none, the question becomes this: why not pay college athletes? After all, their hard work is why their schools are able to bring massive revenue numbers each year.

Games are shown on television, people can buy jerseys–which cannot have the player’s names on them due to NCAA rules, yet still carry their numbers, rendering that restriction mostly pointless–and up until this year there had even been a license to Electronic Arts for a yearly college football video game.

The athletes that make all of this possible? Well they don’t see a dime.

The NCAA has been trying to make sure that college athletes are not seen as employees since a decision by the Colorado Supreme Court in 1953, which ruled that college football players counted as employees under state law and were eligible for worker’s compensation when injured.

Since then the NCAA, along with their member universities, have been using the term “student-athlete” to ensure that their players would not be counted as employees under the law. This is the semantic argument that the NCAA is using to fight against Colter and CAPA’s attempt to unionize Northwestern’s football team.

So while Colter and CAPA are not currently fighting for a piece of the $5.15 billion dollar pie that they help create each year, in an interview with ESPN, Huma would not rule out seeking money in the future.

These athletes do receive scholarships in exchange for playing, and are the engine that drives the multi-billion dollar machine that is the five power conferences, practicing for either side of 40 hours a week, and going to school full-time. Without these athletes, there would be no money.

The argument isn’t so much whether or not these college athletes deserve to get paid, it’s how much. Consider that without their hard work and dedication, these schools would not be making the money they do today.

They do not get paid nearly enough for all the monumental effort that they put into every game, and they do not get paid nearly enough for constantly putting their bodies at risk–and they are at risk, not only for broken bones but for concussions and lasting chronic injuries that will plague them their whole lives.

College athletes deserve better than what they are currently getting, and it’s about time they started asking for it.

John Zurz

John Zurz

John Zurz

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