I don't break away from the Bulls often, but I thought this story was interesting enough and important enough to have a discussion. The National Labor Relations Board decided that NCAA football players can be viewed as employees. They accept compensation in form of scholarship, work set hours, wear a uniform, and are under the direction of management.
The full link to the ruling can be read here.
The decision means that the NCAA players are allowed to unionize, a decision which could have very wide reaching implications for college athletics and universities as it opens the door for collective bargaining process and would likely limit the cap on spending on college athletes at scholarship (in other words, college athletes are likely to get paid if this decision is upheld).
First, let's dispel any notion that college basketball players and football players don't deserve to be paid. The NCAA is making billions off of these sports. Top individual coaches have multi-million dollar salaries. In the free market NBA/NFL the top players make way more than the coaches which means it's fairly clear that an elite college football player is worth much more to his school than his scholarship.
Thus the thought that the scholarship fairly compensates the player is bogus even if we ignore the problems with whether or not that scholarship has real value to a player who may not be given time to study, encouraged to take a major which has no long term value, and is the equivalent of me hiring you but forcing you to accept bubble gum as payment instead of cash.
Disregarding the payment issue, the NCAA goes a step further and says, not only can you not take money from us, but we refuse to allow you to take money from anyone else, so we can also steal all the money you'd make on your own name by selling pictures of you, jerseys of you, video game rights with you in them, etc, etc..
Beyond even that, in the case of college football, players can face long term medical problems with no on-going insurance or help from the universities. So besides not paying you fairly, stealing money by using your likeness, you might also develop debilitating concussion symptoms 10-20 years down the road which completely ruins your life.
The system set up clearly isn't fair. What will be interesting is to see how the system would react to a 'fair' model. I could go on for pages about why the NCAA is a horrible deal for players, and I'm sure the counter argument could go on for pages as well.
However, the better question to ask is what happens if this verdict is upheld?
At the very least, this will end amateurism in professional sports, the rules on marketing your own name will go away. If no other change is made, then that's enough to make things radically more fair for the elite players. Think of how much money Tim Tebow would have made at Florida if allowed to do ads?
I think the best thing that happens is for the players who clearly aren't going to make a ton of money as pros (perhaps no money) but are elite college performers. Those guys will now get what they deserve.
My favorite example is when George Mason made it all the way to the final four. Who remembers the players now? They aren't playing pro or capitalizing on their basketball talent, but I bet, if allowed, they could have made a couple hundred grand that week doing ads, money they'll never see again in their lives. Money they could have used to buy houses or jump start the next portion of their lives.
If that was the only change made, that might be just enough for everyone. The worst of the unfairness would slip away, and college sports would likely continue on doing what it's doing. The big name schools wouldn't pay players directly but negotiate ad deals to pay them indirectly which would amount to the same thing.
What happens if colleges pay salaries on top of that? Many will say this will doom college sports. Universities won't just stop playing football/basketball etc. I think not. Not all schools run these programs as massive profit centers now, and in the future that will still be the case. The ones competing at the highest level will also risk losing a lot more money as they'll pay a lot for players.
However, the number of spots to play college football won't go down, nor will the number of kids who want to play it. Yes, the ones who can get money will take it, but the ones who can't will still gladly take a a scholarship. This will result in concentrated talent into a few schools willing to pay, but so what?
Talent is concentrated anyway. It's concentrated to the teams with the best coaches, where the scouts visit the most, where players feel they have the best chance to go pro afterwards, or where they get the best under the table kickbacks. There's a relatively small group of schools competing every year at the highest level with concentrated talent now.
That won't change. The only thing that changes is the reason for concentration and quite frankly, that likely won't even change where the talent concentrates all that much either as the schools who are winning the arms race now will be the ones most willing to pay anyway.
Any fears that colleges will shut down programs are unfounded. What will happen is some schools will compete harder to get the best players and have the best shot to win. The playing field won't be level, but it was never level anyway. We'll just remove the illusion, and the players will get what is fair for them. What a free market would provide. The same opportunity that you and I have every day in our lives with whatever we do.
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