The news: College football players want to be treated like employees.
Led by quarterback Kain Colter and in joint with the National College Players Association, an “overwhelming majority” of players on the Northwestern University football team have filed a petition to unionize with the National Labor Relations Board.
Simply, the players want to be treated like employees providing a service to the university. But they’re not after pay. Rather, Colter and his teammates want assurances from the NCAA and Northwestern University that all medical expenses a player has for an injury or condition sustained during play will be covered, even after a player is no longer on the team. The proposed union would also seek to ensure that players receive their athletic scholarships whether or not they lose eligibility to play.
These players want to know that they’ll be protected if anything happens to them while playing football, because right now, they aren’t. Because they are classified as “student-athletes” instead of employees, football players don’t have any collective bargaining rights. Meaning they’re at the mercy of the NCAA without getting any input. And it’s clear that isn’t working.
“Right now the NCAA is like a dictatorship,” Colter said in an interview with ESPN. “No one represents [the players] in negotiations. The only way things are going to change is if players have a union.”
Though Colter’s union movement doesn’t involve pay right now, the issue certainly lingers in the background, and it’s something the NCAA takes very seriously. Committed to keep its players classified as “amateurs,” the NCAA kills any talk of player compensation immediately whenever it comes up. It is dead set against paying its players, despite taking in billions of dollars in revenue each year. In fact, the NCAA is so against players receiving any sort of pay for their services that former Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel was suspended this past season simply for allegations that he was paid for autographs – allegations that remain unproven.
The NCAA seems dedicated to fighting the Northwestern team’s attempt to unionize. In a statement from its Chief Legal Officer, the NCAA said that the attempt to unionize “undermines the purpose of college: an education.” It didn’t mention the other thing being undermined: the NCAA’s massive profits.
While against the unionization of its football team, Northwestern University was a tad more understanding, saying “the health and academic issues being raised by our student-athletes and others are important ones that deserve further consideration.”
It will likely be a while before any sort of decision is made. The NCAA will surely oppose the petition, which means it will be appealed to a national board, and then likely to a federal court. Still, even if it could take years for an outcome, this is the first step in a long fight to get college players the rights they deserve – pay or not. It's time NCAA athletes have a say in what happens to them.
Watch Colter's full interview with ESPN below: