By: EVAN SHAUB – SENIOR COMMUNICATION
A few weeks ago the Northwestern University football team made an unprecedented move and took their first steps toward unionizing in an attempt to be recognized as employees in front of the school. It’s about time.
This is a complex issue with consequences that span far beyond the campus of Northwestern. It’s clear that some student athletes are deserving of more money than they currently receive, in major Division I athletics some teams draw more than 100,000 fans a game and play in front of national audiences on television.
However, the reality is that you can’t pay every student athlete because most student athletes simply don’t bring in money to their schools. Those two facts make up the heart of the debate.
Dr. David Ridpath, the co-editor of “The Journal for Intercollegiate Athletics” and former assistant athletic director at Marshall before becoming a professor at Ohio University, has spent most of his working life researching topics of this nature.
“I think we have to get away from the ‘here’s your scholarship work away’ attitude that prevails in this country,” Ridpath said. “These athletes don’t have control over their athletic and their academic futures. They don’t get paid what a lot of people think, and we’re certainly not giving them adequate information about their rights.”
There is no real legal precedent on this issue. Athletes have never attempted to be represented by a labor union. That means that this has the chance to be a landmark case that could change the way intercollegiate athletics are carried out in the future.
“Athletes are much smarter, much more informed, and much more connected now. With the athletes organizing it shouldn’t take a lot.” Ridpath said. “This is the NCAA’s worst nightmare.”
This all started officially on Jan. 28 when Ramogi Huma, the president of the National College Players Association, filed a petition on behalf of the football players at Northwestern at the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago.
This came two days after Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter called a players-only meeting in a classroom on campus.
During that meeting Huma spoke to the players about their rights, he needed 30 percent of the players to sign the petition for it to be valid. More than 75 percent of the team signed.
“I think this shows that we’ve really turned the page now,” Ridpath said. “Athletes are standing up for themselves. For too long the NCAA has had this ‘we tell you to jump-you say how high’ attitude, but that’s not how it works. These athletes have rights. What does it matter if Braxton Miller wants to sell his jersey? The free market should determine the cost of his name and likeness.”
Northwestern believes that their “student athletes are not employees but students,” according to an official statement made by its attorney Joe Tilson. This is expected, and it’s what any other university would say if they found themselves in this situation.
“The current model simply doesn’t work and we need to change. We shouldn’t try to keep perpetrating the façade that this is all about academic ability,” Ridpath said.
“Anything that changes will be a vast improvement over the system we have in place now.”