Northwestern ruling a step in right direction

As compensation for my work as editor-in-chief at this paper, I am given around $70 every two weeks. It isn’t much, and certainly doesn’t correspond to the amount of hours put in, but it’s a nice validation of the work and helps buy a few lunches a week on campus.

The idea behind paying someone holding my position (along with the majority of positions on The Oswegonian’s staff), I imagine, is that we provide a service to the school. We report on news each week and provide an outlet that contributes to campus discourse and culture. We also net a modest amount of advertising revenue.

I dedicate a large amount of my own time to running a publication, even though I’m still a student, and compensated for my efforts. No one seems to mind.

Now, let’s say I’m a college athlete. I too would be giving up the majority of my time toward a cause. The games I play in, especially at the Division I level, draw substantial revenue for the school, and the connection that sports create between universities and alumni (and most importantly their checkbooks) is undisputed. Certainly more in both regards than any student newspaper.

I am doing all this at the expense of my own time, which could otherwise be used toward a job, internship or other activities more toward my own individual benefit. Plus, let’s not forget, through the mere act of putting on a uniform, I am putting myself in physical danger.

Yet, in this scenario, I should expect only a scholarship at Division I level, and absolutely nothing in Division II or III.

A sentence like ‘only a scholarship’ could easily end a conversation. It does have a certain entitlement to it, at face value. College is expensive after all, and ways to pay for it aren’t easy to come by.

But compare that $40,000-per-year scholarship to the $1,300 average ticket price for the Final Four this weekend in the massive Cowboys Stadium. Consider the almost 110,000 seats in the University of Michigan’s stadium, which sells out multiple times per year. Put it against the $5.2 million that Nick Saban will be paid to coach the University of Alabama football team this year, making him the highest paid public employee in the state.

It doesn’t add up.

The current system is both outdated and exploitative and has to change. Players don’t need to cash in million dollar paychecks, but they should be able to afford lunch. Watch “Schooled: The Price of College Sports,” a documentary on the subject, and you will hear story after story of players who made their universities millions of dollars on the gridiron or court, and then went home to empty dorm-room fridges. Arian Foster, a superstar running back with the Houston Texans who signed a 4-year, $52 million contract in 2012, said that while on scholarship at Tennessee, he had so little food that he had to call his coach and beg for lunch for him and his teammates. What’s worse, had his coach been caught providing that lunch, the whole team would be investigated and possibly penalized by the NCAA.

Profit off the players – just don’t feed them. Something’s wrong with that picture.

This is by no means a new opinion. In fact, the issue has been debated for years. Unfortunately, the people who hold all the cards, the all-powerful NCAA, have been entirely inflexible to even a discussion on the idea.

A recent court ruling, however, could be a sign that the NCAA won’t be able to cling forever to the concept of amateurism and the “student-athlete.”

On March 26, a regional director on the National Labor Relations Board ruled that football players on scholarship at Northwestern University are employees of the university and thus have a right to unionize.

The movement had begun in the fall, when the players, disgruntled with the college football system that benefits everyone except those on the field risking their necks, began to unite. They wrote “APU” on their wristband, for All Players United. They then petitioned to unionize in January.

Now, in the grand scheme of getting players paid, the ruling is a pebble thrown into the ocean. The leader of the group, Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, has said that “pay-for-play” salaries are not even on the agenda for the group.

Instead they will fight for better healthcare coverage, larger scholarship funds and other benefits.

Beyond that, the NLRB only regulates private institutions and the majority of the largest athletic programs in the country reside in public universities.

The team, by the way, is still yet to vote on whether to actually become an official union.

But it’s a step, and one that sets a precedent that could allow more teams to unionize and fight for better benefits. And in a system that to this point has been under the complete and unyielding control of the NCAA, an entity with a lot to lose from having to extend larger benefits to athletes, any step that gets more players to the negotiating table is a positive one.

In the meantime, players best suit up and get out there. Those alumni dollars won’t make themselves.