A Labor Relations Board hearing commenced last Wednesday, in response to a group of Northwestern football players who signed a petition to seek union protection; the outcome of which could have historic implications for college athletics.
The petition is the first step in the union certification process. With this action, players are hoping to gain union access, essentially making them employees of the university.
Players told local press that they feel they have no say in their lives in relation to their sport.
According to an article in the Columbus Dispatch, “those players want the College Athletes Players Association to act on their behalf by collectively bargaining with the NCAA, the governing body of college sports.”
Union representation would afford athletes a say in matters that truly affect them as athletes, as a union’s main goal is to collectively bargain for benefits in fair terms with management.
The article explains the goal of these athletes is not to receive payment, but “for players representation in discussions on medial issues, due-process rights, scholarship increase and guarantees, and the creation of an education fund.”
Northwestern is a Division 1 school, and part of the Big Ten athletic conference. However, like Ohio Wesleyan, Northwestern is a private university, because of this they have pull a state school wouldn’t have.
The NCAA however, is claiming that these individuals are students and not employees, and there are other ways to address their concerns.
Athletic director Roger Ingles said, “The lawyers for the unions believe the athletic scholarships are payment for the players performances.”
“Under this logic, all academic scholarships winners would also be able to unionize as their scholarships could be deemed in payment of their academic performances,” he said.
Ingles said he believes this action could potentially disrupt the balance of academics and athletics on a college campus.
“While I am not in favor of this approach, I do think it should make everyone sit down and reflect where our priorities are when it comes to collegiate athletics, especially at the major Division I level,” he said.
“The purpose of this group is to give the athletes a place at the table in discussions about things directly affecting them.”
According to Ingles any decision will lead to negative implications on all college athletes.
Ingles said it is unrealistic for Division III schools to pay athletes since the programs are not self-sustaining in their own right.
“In fact, very few Division I or II programs make a profit,” he said. “Division III has no athletic scholarships and generates very little revenue. Our major impact will a result of filter down legislation should the NCAA lose this case.”
There are some positives that could come from union representation.
Junior lacrosse player Matthew Sommi said he thought their petition seemed impractical at first, but he sees the merit in their case.
“Northwestern academics are extremely demanding,” he said.
“By gaining union power Northwestern athletes could see benefits such as a class schedule that revolves around a select sport, special tutoring, increased scholarships to athletes, and special networking opportunities.”
Sommi said the negatives that arise could outweigh the benefits for certain athletes. A union is predicated on equal opportunities for its members, which could, in turn, negatively impact certain individuals.
“In the case of Northwestern athletics you could possibly see the amount of full scholarships awarded to athletes decrease to increase the amount of scholarship money geared towards all sports and team members,” he said.
Ingles agreed stating, “the NCAA believes this movement by the union to unionize student athletes undermines the purpose of college and that is to get an education. Student athletic involvement is voluntary and the NCAA represents all student-athletes and not just those who want to professionalize.”
According to president Rock Jones, OWU doesn’t have to worry about a decision on this action affecting OWU athletes.
“There really is no comparison between athletics at a Big 10 School and athletics at Ohio Wesleyan,” he said.
“Our commitment is to the integrated experience of a student athlete, where student athletes receive no scholarships related to their academic talent, and where we remain fiercely loyal to concept of amateurism as a defining characteristic of the college student athlete.”
Sommi shared Jones’ attitude that the ruling of this case would not have any affect on OWU, stating that OWU athletes have no reason to start a union, “on the sole fact that our sports don’t generate any revenue stream for the university.”
Jones said, “Our student athletes are well served by their academic advisers and their coaches, and I cannot imagine a reason why a place like Ohio Wesleyan would benefit from union representation for student athletes.”