Does college athletics need the union label?

Some Georgia players sported APU wristbands last fall.

Some Georgia players sported APU wristbands last fall.

As many of us in the Peach State have been chilling out this week, the biggest news in college athletics, aside from those last desperate recruiting visits, has been Northwestern football players teaming up with the United Steelworkers to try and get a union for college athletes off the ground — a move hailed on social media by several of Mark Richt’s Georgia Bulldogs.

Calling the NCAA “a dictatorship,” Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter laid out the case for the proposed College Athletes Players Association at a news conference in Chicago. He wants college athletes to be considered “employees” of their schools since they generate all that revenue. “How can they call this amateur athletics when our jerseys are sold in stores and the money we generate turns coaches and commissioners into multimillionaires?” Colter asked.

UGA's Kolton Houston would like the chance to be a union man. (University of Georgia)

UGA's Kolton Houston would like the chance to be a union man. (University of Georgia)

Not surprisingly, players on the UGA offensive line — some of whom already sported “APU” (for All Players United) wristbands during a game last season — expressed support for the idea. Kolton Houston, whose lengthy battle with the NCAA for eligibility was the stuff of an ESPN documentary, gave props to the Northwestern players and said he hopes it works. John Theus and Brandon Kublanow also were on board.

But it wasn’t just those “blue-collar” position players hopping on the union bandwagon in Athens. Running back Keith Marshall tweeted: “I like what the Northwestern players are doing!” And UGA basketball player Marcus Thornton said he thought it would be “great” for players to organize “to have a voice.”

As expected, the embattled NCAA, already sweating out the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit that seeks to force it to pay a portion of licensing fees to athletes, came out strongly against the Northwestern initiative, insisting that college athletes cannot be considered employees under federal labor law since their participation in college sports is voluntary.

The reaction elsewhere has been mixed, ranging from those fans who think the players have a valid point and deserve more protection and representation to others with an anti-union inclination who note that the athletes receive a free education and room and board in return for playing. Some have even gone so far as to call college athletes wanting to unionize “pampered” and “greedy.”

Running back Keith Marshall expressed support for the player union movement. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Running back Keith Marshall expressed support for the player union movement. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

And then there are those who fear that the loss of “amateurism” as it’s current constituted in college athletics and the rise of collective bargaining, with visions of union reps filing grievances over failed drug tests and suspensions for misbehavior and so on. Some fear a players union will not only doom the embattled NCAA but perhaps forever change college sports, particularly the chief cash cow, football.

I think the most virulent knee-jerk blowback from some fans is based on an innate opposition to the idea of paying players — whether in the form of enhanced scholarships as has been proposed within the NCAA, or via straight stipends as some coaches like Steve Spurrier would prefer. And there’s no doubt that, if college players were to unionize, pay-for-play would eventually wind up on the table.

But for now athletes being paid to play is not one of the issues Colter and his group are raising. Their immediate worries are college athletes’ brain trauma risks, more scholarship money, preventing players from being stuck paying sports-related medical expenses, increasing the graduation rate of athletes, preventing schools from using a permanent injury suffered while playing as an excuse to reduce or eliminate a scholarship, establishing and enforcing uniform safety guidelines in all sports, making it easier for athletes to transfer to another school/program one time without punishment or limitations (like their coaches already can), and — perhaps most notably — eliminating restrictions on players’ outside employment and ability to directly benefit from commercial opportunities.

In other words, let college athletes have the sort of freedom to make money off their notoriety that Olympic athletes already have. While officially “amateur,” meaning they don’t compete for prize money or get paid for competing, Olympians can merchandise themselves, get lucrative licensing fees and so on. If the same applied to college football, say, Todd Gurley could share in all the money that UGA generates selling those No. 3 jerseys and Johnny Football could have been openly paid for all those autographs.

Mostly, though, the players pushing the union movement want a voice for student athletes in NCAA decisions (as UGA receiver Chris Conley, an NCAA student-athlete committee representative, told the NCAA convention this month, asking why a restructured governance model shown at the gathering didn’t include a spot for the student-athlete). In other words, the players want more attention paid to their welfare.

All of which I think is pretty reasonable.

While it’s true that not all college athletics programs are banking big bucks like UGA (most lose money), there’s no denying that they make an awful lot of money off student athletes. Yeah, the athletes get free schooling and all, but they aren’t feasibly able to have jobs, like other students do, to help with expenses. And they face greater demands, too, not the least of which is all that offseason “voluntary” conditioning and working out.

I’m just not sure that a plan with players considered employees and an actual dues-paying union that could call for strikes is the way to go — and in 24 states like Georgia, where there are right-to-work laws that restrict who can unionize, it’s probably pretty impossible legally. (Considering the status of unions in this state, it is interesting/ironic that UGA players seem to be ahead of the curve in supporting this idea.)

Still, I do believe that this movement could be a good thing if it gets the NCAA and schools to pay more attention to player issues. And, unfortunately, the reality is they probably wouldn’t pay that much serious attention to those issues unless they perceived a threat (like a union) that could derail their gravy train. If the end result is that programs spend more money on player welfare and less on ridiculous recruiting lures like locker rooms with fountains or increasingly absurd coaching salaries, well, that sounds like an overall improvement to me.

I do think that change is coming to college athletics, one way or another, and my own view is that the Olympic model perhaps points the way here, in lieu of an actual unionization of college athletics.

How about you?

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93 comments Add your comment

home&home

January 30th, 2014
12:11 pm

Real simple solution to the whole thing: require all college athletes to gain admission to the schools as a normal student would. Would get rid of the whole “minor league” thing we’ve got going now and force the NFL and NBA to form there own similar to MLB.

cahopkins

January 30th, 2014
12:23 pm

It is very simple – if you don’t like the rules – then don’t play. Don’t take the scholarship. Don’t get the coaches, the medical, the tutors, the benefits. Just don’t play. Nobody is going to make anyone play. Just don’t do it. If you don’t like the deal, don’t do it.

Flo-Ri-Duh

January 30th, 2014
12:24 pm

The student’s aren’t asking for a “union” with labor bosses… they want security if they are injured and an allowance. They should, as a group, get a small % of the profit. Take all the sports at the school subtract the expenses from the profit and give each scholarship student the same amount on a weekly basis. $200 a week should suffice. They deserve decent food, care and money for car payments and a date. Not a fortune – maybe $200 a week. You have to do it that way to avoid cries of sexism and lawsuits by so called feminists.

LADawg

January 30th, 2014
12:29 pm

Enter your comments here

Flo-Ri-Duh

January 30th, 2014
12:30 pm

The Dawg players see how unfair the NCAA is with punishment and they want some controls put on the all powerful NCAA blowhards.

The NCAA should be abolished and a new system established with the actual colleges in charge… not a bunch of old men that are getting rich off of being on the NCAA payroll.

I always thought the NCAA screwed A.J. Green. The jerseys were A.J.’s personal property. He paid for them. This is still the USA. How can they keep someone from selling their OWN property. That’s gub’ment at it’s worst.

jerry

January 30th, 2014
12:32 pm

If the NLRB decides that a college athlete is more economic than educational would all compensation be taxable? Could scholarship be awarded when not to further education?

Talladawg

January 30th, 2014
12:36 pm

I think things need to change in college athletics, mainly by letting any player go pro at any time. That way only kids who want scholarships are on a team. (I know it would weaken the NCAA’s and the scjools’ cask cows, but this is theoretical at this point.)

Here is the problem with at least one issue presented in the article: the jersey sales. How long is a number being sold because of the player and how long because of the “G” on it? Example: who should get the money from the sales of a number “8″ jersey, Buck Belue or AJ Green? And, DJ Shockley also wore number 3 like Gurley. To avoid this situation each team could reserve one or two jersey numbers to sell and not let any player wear those numbers. Then, we would know it was because of the “G” and not the number.

LADawg

January 30th, 2014
12:38 pm

The NCAA and Universities will fight to maintain their plantation the same way the south fought to maintain theirs.

The “free” education arguement is laughable! I was in classes with athletes and unless there were lab fees, it didn’t cost any more for UGA to have one more behind sitting at a desk. The professors and TAs don’t get paid on a per student basis. If the school can cram one more student in a room that already holds 150, the more the better.

Bulldawg35

January 30th, 2014
12:39 pm

Yeah just give the players more money to but POT! No thanks!

Max Sizemore

January 30th, 2014
12:49 pm

Absolutely all for unionization. It’s an absolute joke that colleges can make millions and their players can’t even sell a jersey with their name on it.

JaxDawg

January 30th, 2014
12:59 pm

There are more Atheletic Departments that lose money than make money. Paying players would make it impossible for smaller schools with limited Atheletic budgets to compete. It would also force schools to drop even more non-revenue generating sports than they already are due to Title IX. One idea might be to set aside a percentage of jersey revenue generated and give it to the player after his eligiblity has expired.

hind tit

January 30th, 2014
1:02 pm

If they don’t preform will they be cut? Seems only fair. So could this mean doing away with signing limits and sign as many as you want. So whose the loser? The players that get a free education. They sign one year scholarships. Can of worms big time.

NC Dawg

January 30th, 2014
1:25 pm

Players are still getting full ride scholarships, right? There’s your compensation.

7576DAWG

January 30th, 2014
1:28 pm

This is getting way out of hand. As a few on here have stated I think the Student athlete should have to abide by the same rule the average student does. At Georgia the average SAT this past year was around 1150 to 1200 and the average grade point average was 3.8. How many of the current 85 Scholarship players would be on the team. If they want to get a College education so bad then make them pay the $50,000.00 per year the rest of us are having to pay. Make the NFL rehab all those ACL injuries coming out of High School and pay the Billion’s to develop future Pro players.

GeoffDawg

January 30th, 2014
1:32 pm

It’s also fair to note that the vast majority of college athletes don’t generate positive revenue for their schools and the value of their scholarship and all the ancillary benefits associated with it far outweighs the benefit to the university. Also, even though athletics scholarships are renewable on an annual basis, with a few sketchy exceptions out there, they’re generally honored for four years no matter what. If players want to be treated like employees, be prepared to be “fired” if your performance on the field isn’t cutting it.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

January 30th, 2014
1:32 pm

Flo-Ri-Duh

October 17th, 2013
12:15 pm

Who Who Who Who? Bill King – calling you OUT. If there needs to be a change, obviously you think so, then who would you put on the short list to be the next DC?

Flo-Ri-Duh

September 29th, 2013
3:54 pm

One thing NO ONE has considered: an entire class of DB’s was kicked off of the team by Richt… Marshall (S), Sanders (CB) and two other guys I can’t remember. That is why they are now having to play freshmen. Is that Grantham’s fault?
Flo-Ri-Duh

Flo-Ri-Duh

September 29th, 2013
10:30 pm

ivari – You weren’t 1st and can’t claim it but good (not really) try.

Like I pointed out earlier UGA is playing freshman DB’s because 4 DB’s were dismissed from school a couple of years ago…… two of them were Marshall (S) and Sanders(CB) who were highly ranked and probably be starting now. Grantham did not have a choice but to play guys that are totally inexperienced. So quit giving him grief over it.

That said the most troubling part of the defense is in the red zone. Much work needs to be done there – including run support as twice the LSU walked in untouched around the end.

Flo-Ri-Duh

October 4th, 2013
10:28 am

The Dawg’s secondary went straight out of high school to playing two of the nations best offenses and there are 8 new starters on the defense.

The DL and LB’s are playing against the run and the pass rush is picking up.

Special teams were great against LSU.

So now you only have one thing to whine about – the pass defense.

Experience is what freshmen need and they are better now than they were 3 weeks ago.

Soon you will just have to SHUT UP!

Flo-Ri-Duh

September 20th, 2013
11:23 am

Thoughts to ponder. What if A&M hadn’t sat out 6 starters on their defense with a suspension the weeks going up to the Bama game. They looked very disorganized since they had not played together this year. Similar to UGA starting so many new guys in their 1st game against a top 10 opponent.

Flo-Ri-Duh

September 21st, 2013
8:18 pm

The defense was much better as was the tackling. When are they going to learn to defend against the wheel rout?

Nathan Theus cost UGA the game against Clemson and almost against S.C. Needs to get his act together.

The short kick off led to the TD run back. Time to let the punter do the kickoffs.
The OL was disappointing and actually led to Murray’s interception which he never shoudl have thrown.

The defense was impressive.

Flo-Ri-Duh

September 21st, 2013
10:26 pm

Flo-Ri-Duh

September 22nd, 2013
2:08 pm

BS35 (aka Milk Dud) – Have you fallen off the wagon again? Those Milk Duds can be worse addiction than CROAK! Get some help little buddy.

Need me to call in your rescription for Prozac?

Flat Tire – Yes it was the pumped in noise through the speakers that caused the OL to not block.

Dawgs got 680 + yards – If they had just blocked they would have gotten 1000+ yards.

Richt has already announced that he is replacing the long snapper.

Also, Richt hinted at a change to Colin Barber (the punter) for kick offs.

LSU gave up 400+ yards to a pitiful Aubarn team…. UGA should get around 600+ yards for sure.

Only thing that matters is a “W””… one point wun wull do for the Dawgs.

Dawgs gained 680+ yards on offense

Mean Green got 250 …. score was 45-21′

Dawgs defense gave up 7 yards rushing and 7 points the whole game.

You whining crybabies please tell me how awful the defense was.

The Dawgs offense gained 680+ yards. Quit sniveling and wipe your snotty nose.

Dawgs announced that they have changed long snappers after the punt block caused by the high snap.

Dawgs will announce next week that the punter will handle kick offs- as a short kick off by the field goal kicker resulted in the TD return – by the way that was the Mean Green’s kick returner, Chancelor’s,

November 16th, 2013
10:08 am

Got a feeling you TROLLS will disappear for a while after this game.

Class of '98

January 30th, 2014
1:32 pm

“In other words, let college athletes have the sort of freedom to make money off their notoriety that Olympic athletes already have.”

Sure, and then let’s all watch as wealthy boosters pay $250k for an “autograph” on national signing day.

7576DAWG

January 30th, 2014
1:34 pm

If we have to start paying players then don’t we have to pay every Scholarship Athlete the same. All those Cricket players and Water Polo players not to mention the other 35 men and women Sports that don’t producer a dime of revenue.
Why don’t the NCAA sue the NFL for compensation for developing all their future Stars. Shouldn’t the NFL have to fork over Millions?

DawginColorado

January 30th, 2014
1:44 pm

I see Flat Tire is posting things totally off topic in his relentless quest to get some angle on the “Kool aiders”. Pitiful.

dawgfan

January 30th, 2014
1:47 pm

It’s never seen right to me that AJ Green had to sit 4 games because he sold his own jersey. That’s communism. The only reason it was worth anything was because if his efforts and talents and no one else’s. It’s just wrong. Free education my azz. People are making MILLIONS if not billions off these guys and they don’t see a penny.

I don’t know what the precise answer is but something’s got to change.

DawginColorado

January 30th, 2014
1:50 pm

Well I don’t believe in Unions so no they don’t need the Union label. Unions had their place once upon a time but now all they do is protect incompetence and the power of their leadership. We don’t need unions to obtain equitable policies.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

January 30th, 2014
1:52 pm

DawginColorado

I just wanted to make sure someone didnt miss what was posted on the previous blog

I left you a post as well; I can copy that too if you need it

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

January 30th, 2014
1:55 pm

Give them a small amount of spending money and stop the ability of canceling a scholarship due to injury

for the players who dont get a full scholarship give them a little more money

other than that, that the scholarship is enough

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

January 30th, 2014
1:56 pm

dawgfan

January 30th, 2014
1:56 pm

“If players want to be treated like employees, be prepared to be “fired” if your performance on the field isn’t cutting it.”

Please let me know when this tough talk applies to our overpaid and underperforming head coach so I can throw a party.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

January 30th, 2014
2:03 pm

dawgfan

actually it does apply at UGA;

remember as long as you beat Tech and have 7 or 8 wins a year you have a lifetime contract

Bulldawg35

January 30th, 2014
2:17 pm

I think UGA should unionize Richt’s contract!!! Every time UGA loses to an inferior team they deduct money from his contract.

GeoffDawg

January 30th, 2014
2:32 pm

dawgfan, if you’d take a moment to actually consider what I wrote, then you might realize that I’m speaking in generalities and not specifically about the Georgia staff. Since the article was about a growing trend in college football started at Northwestern, I would’ve thought that’d be self evident.

dawgfan

January 30th, 2014
2:49 pm

I know you’re not talking about the Georgia staff. That was my point genius.

GeoffDawg

January 30th, 2014
3:06 pm

Hmm, I guess quoting my post verbatim and then qualifying it as “tough talk” related to CMR and staff had me fooled. Can’t imagine how I made that mistake.

Joey

January 30th, 2014
3:07 pm

Universities cannot pay football players without paying every other member of every, money-down-the-drain team in the athletic department (golf, tennis, volleyball, and every women’s sport, etc)

Google Title IX.

Dog4Life

January 30th, 2014
3:18 pm

I think Flo is correct. No one, at least now, is asking for millions and union contracts to contest suspensions etc…. I do know from experience that some money (reasonable money) $200 every two weeks would have been nice. I was lucky under the G.I. Bill i was compensated for tuition, books, and some living allowance. Without that, ask my wife, it would have been difficult to make it. So give them something and for goodness sake take care of the injured guys–they gave everything and then it is all gone. I am a little nervous with unions but the guys need some assistance–it is called capitalism–paid for services rendered.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

January 30th, 2014
3:24 pm

Dog4Life

$200 a month is plenty for those who have full rides; I could understand the 400 for the players who dont

My Take on this issue

January 30th, 2014
3:25 pm

I do not support any union activities. I do not not drive, nor have I driven USA labor union made cars in over 32 years. I do not support pro sports. Unions are usually trying to create disharmony in the shop or workplace. THAT is what union bosses do.

I am a UGA alumnus and if UGA goes with unionized players, I will withold my $ support AND attendance to their games.

DawginColorado

January 30th, 2014
3:46 pm

I thought I saw somewhere on these boards where someone pointed out an article outlining how football players can apply for a Pell grant that provides $17500 a year in tax free money for them to use. That is way more than minimum wage.

The big issue doesn’t seem to be “pay for play” but rather giving the players a voice and looking after their healthcare once they leave school. I am sure that these issues can be addressed without creating a union to screw thing up for everyone in the future.

LADawg

January 30th, 2014
4:14 pm

DawginColorado must have read Bill’s article.

The big issue is more about the football players having a voice. As it is, the players put their health on the line every week for our entertainment and to produce hundreds of millions for networks, universities, conferences, and the NCAA.

Many times the threat of unionization will start a dialogue. The players have no where else to turn and their concerns are legitimate. Hopefully, the powers that be will listen and give the students a voice.

Flo-Ri-Duh

January 30th, 2014
4:30 pm

dawgpoop it can’t be… we agree on something? Hell just froze over.

I say no to “unions” in the traditional sense with the labor bosses and party politics. I say yes to a “stipend” paid to each scholarship athlete (regardless of sport) paid out as a % of profits after expenses (including the expense of scholarships) are subtracted and I say yes to a student having the right to selling their own property with their name on it. I would also allow the schools to sell sports stuff with the players name on it as long as they are on scholarship and even after if the player signs such agreement upon accepting the scholarship. The situation is that these kids often come from low income families, they are asked to attend class and keep up their grades, they are asked to practice and study their play book, they are asked to risk their health in games… all taking time. They have any time for an outside job to raise the money they need for everyday things that the scholarship doesn’t cover. Pell grants don’t give you cash to spend as you wish… there are designated things the money is spent on. Athletes don’t even have money to take a girl on a date. Include a “stipend” to be delivered weekly to the student along with the scholarship and cover expenses for injuries incurred that are related to the sport that the scholarship is for. That’s humane.
Schools make millions off of them and a few dollars isn’t asking to much. If that is done we don’t need unions. I’m also for dissolving the NCAA as it is and forming a new association with common sense and honesty.

Flo-Ri-Duh

January 30th, 2014
4:34 pm

Flat Tire – So exactly what did I say that wasn’t in fact the truth? I get it that you want a National Championship regardless of circumstances… injuries, etc. That is, unless you are the TROLL you appear be. A TROLL that won’t shut your face til #1 Mark Richt is fired #2 UGA football is dissolved.

Flo-Ri-Duh

January 30th, 2014
4:42 pm

BS35 (aka Milk Dud) – You are selfish…. these guys deserve a decent way of life. Not riches or high style but the basic necessities. Why do they deserve it? Why do coaches deserve multi-million dollar contracts? Both questions have the same answer… they generate billions in profit for these school…. yes, I said billions.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

January 30th, 2014
4:44 pm

Flo-ri-duh

I was just showing your excuse making for Grantham that you claimed you never did

dawgfan

January 30th, 2014
4:45 pm

I wonder how much money people made off of “Johnny Football,” but he can’t make a buck signing his own name on a piece of paper.

The NCAA is Un-American.

hobokendawg

January 30th, 2014
5:50 pm

people support what supports them, then they turn to justification to denounce their opposites. two things that built this country were the Detroit diesel and organized labor. we can thank organized labor for establishing the middle class we enjoy today, .all things come and go and come again as needed. if admitting to ones self that strength exists in numbers and alone, we as individuals are finite, then how egotistical is our character. for those that think the need for organized labor is over then let it disappear and listen to those that scream for its return. organized labor Is God’s gift to working people. may our young people enjoy its wonder working power.

Gman 84

January 30th, 2014
7:31 pm

If paying the players comes to fruition (very slippery slope), payments should be subsidized by the NFL which currently pays nothing for its talent pipeline while effectively treating CFB as their player-develpment league. After all, there is really no other path to the NFL but to play CFB.

As Bill points out, ost programs lose money and don’t have the surplus from which to pay players. Having the NFL even the playing field fr all programs is he way to go.

daveinmiddlega

January 30th, 2014
8:52 pm

how about we unionize high school players also? they are spending a lot of time at practice and they also get hurt. they bring money and notoriety to the high school. some powerhouse high schools in this state bring in loads of money for their high school due to football. shouldn’t these 4 and 5 star recruits have some form of compensation for their time and effort? shouldn’t they be protected and compensated in case of injury to protect their 4 or 5 star status before going to college? where will it end, junior high or pee wee football? since coaches are offering scholarships to junior high kids now.

Flo-Ri-Duh

January 30th, 2014
9:04 pm

The problem with what you call “organized labor” is who runs them – the mob. Unions have been known to go to extreme limits to demand what they want. Greed has corrupted unions and they pay off and control crooked politicians to get what they want. We also have to much gub’ment involved in the private sector.

NCAA is like a meddling gub’ment out of control.

Flo-Ri-Duh

January 30th, 2014
9:14 pm

Flat Tire – Pointing out the reasons for part of the failure of the defense in 2013 is not an endorsement of Grantham. I never said he was my choice (he wasn’t). It’s a fact that there were numerous key injuries. It’s a fact that several DB’s were kicked off the team that would be starting now. It’s a fact that there were 9 new starters on the defense. It’s a reason the defense was poor but not the only reason. It’s also a fact that UGA had the 6th most difficult schedule in the nation (rated by the BCS computers).

I’m glad Grantham’s gone and Pruitt’s here. Why are you still biotching about Grantham? You wanted the guys before him fired – Richt fired them. You wanted it done fast – it’s your fault he hired Grantham!

spurrier

January 30th, 2014
10:12 pm

Grantham gone and new D in place like all u haters wanted! Though not looking at your REALproblem!

Obama

January 30th, 2014
11:03 pm

relax Plumperboy…We wont get into football.

GHWB

January 31st, 2014
3:29 am

Southern rednecks have been well trained to hate the very word “union”.

A player’s union will go over like a lead balloon in Redneckistan.

NoAxeToGrind

January 31st, 2014
5:30 am

All this problem began years ago when Florida made the Old Ball Coach the first “million dollar” man. Is Richt really worth 3 plus million a year? I doubt it.