Sports

Wednesday, Apr 16 2014 06:00 AM

The Roadrunner Connection: Unionization issue hurts student-athletes

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Corey Costelloe

Later this month Northwestern University will appeal a March decision by the National Labor Relations Board that student-athletes at the university would be allowed to form a union and be treated like campus employees since they're on scholarship and playing football for the Wildcats.

This movement also challenges the amateurism aspect of the NCAA and would lead to more unionization among other departments nationwide if, in fact, it stands.

This challenge was brought forth by former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, who believes more should be done to enhance the student-athlete experience by funding more than just the cost of tuition and fees, including providing better health coverage for athletes beyond their playing years and more support to encourage graduation by athletes, especially in the sports of men's basketball and football.

Just to be clear, Colter's arguments have little to do with the so-called "pay-for-play" movements which have been grumbling for years as some say student-athletes bring in "so much money for a university" that they, too, should be compensated.

While Colter wants a union for coverage and a voice at the table, he may be bargaining for more than he can handle.

Here's the reality of the situation: Apart from a select handful of schools in Division I athletics, most athletic departments lose money. That's right, we're not rolling in the cash, especially when you're a non-football school and you're not playing in a power-conference like the Pac-12, Big 10, Big 12, ACC or SEC.

Believe me, I live it every day at California State University, Bakersfield.

Colter raises some valid points. With the increase in health care costs, maybe more should be done to treat injuries sustained while playing college sports beyond the years of scholarship and, yes, helping students graduate should be priority number-one for athletic departments.

I know it is here at CSUB where we've invested more money and personnel into academic support during the last three years than any other area of our athletics department.

But that's where Colter's argument hits a snag. Here he is arguing for unionization and more rights because he plays football and he wants more done to help student-athletes academically, but did you know that recent numbers release by the NCAA claim that 99 percent of student-athletes in their membership across Divisions I, II and III will not turn pro in their sport they play?

Those numbers, which I can support based on personal experience, means student-athletes should be focusing on what matters most, their education and real future.

If that education happens to be fully or partially paid for thanks to athletic talent, all the better.

Unionization of these student-athletes would mean more costs for universities, fewer scholarship opportunities for several sports and a reduction in academic support in order to cover the costs of this latest scheme. Some suggestions are valid, but getting the NLRB involved and partnering with a steel-workers union is mixing a potion for disaster.

Who do you think cares more for these student-athletes, their coaches and administrators on their campuses, or the representatives from the steel-workers union who sees this as an opportunity to get bigger and richer? Who has their best interest in mind? You be the judge.

What happens if the union is formed and recognition for scholarship-athletes as "employees" is granted? Would the value of a scholarship, which in Northwestern's case gets to be about $60,000 a year now be taxable income? You bet. Unions don't get by on free memberships either, somebody has to pay the dues. Those are just a couple of the unanswered questions in this matter.

I applaud Kain Colter for bringing these issues to light and for organizing such a worthy challenge; it goes to show he paid attention in class. But his misguided approach could end up hurting the NCAA and its student-athletes more than it helps them. Especially us little fish just trying to win some games, provide a lasting experience for our fans and student-athletes and get them out of here with a degree in their hands.

Granted the NCAA is always in need of reforming, but this is just not the way.

 

COREY COSTELLOE, a Tehachapi High graduate, is Director of New Media and Broadcasting for California State University, Bakersfield.

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