BU Today


YouSpeak: Can College Athletes Unionize?

Recent NLRB ruling says yes


College sports is big business, especially for elite teams. The recently concluded National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) annual March Madness college basketball tournament brought in an estimated $800 million for the NCAA. And a winning team or a star player can lead to a surge in fundraising for its respective college or university. A recent New York Times article reports that during Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel’s star turn for the Texas A&M Aggies in 2012 and 2013, the university saw a $300 million increase in donations over the previous year.

But what about the players? Do they deserve a piece of the revenue pie? Should they be allowed to bargain collectively? Those questions became the focus of intense debate last month after a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Peter Ohr, ruled that a group of Northwestern University football players (those receiving athletic scholarships) have the right to unionize. Ohr noted that the students were employees of the University, and as such, had the right to bargain collectively.

Northwestern disagreed. The university stated that they “believe strongly that our student athletes are not employees, but students. Unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns raised by student-athletes.” And the NCAA, which arguably has the most to lose if team unions are allowed to go forward, released a similar statement: “We strongly disagree with the notion that student-athletes are employees.”

Ohr, for his part, cited the number of hours the Northwestern student-athletes practiced and played each week (40 to 50) and their scholarships—which he said were a contract for compensation—as justification for his ruling.

A lengthy appeals process is expected before any decision is reached about whether the Northwestern players can, indeed, form a union. But the ruling has ignited heated debate.

So this week’s “YouSpeak” asks: Should college athletes be be allowed to unionize?

YouSpeak” typically appears on Mondays. If you have a suggestion for a topic, leave it in the Comment section below.

Taylor Toole, Video Producer, Multimedia Producer, BU Today, BU Productions, Bostonia, Boston University, BU
Taylor Toole

Taylor Toole can be reached at ttoole@bu.edu.

9 Comments on YouSpeak: Can College Athletes Unionize?

  • Anonymous on 04.22.2014 at 7:55 am

    Let them unionize……..and let pay for their tuition, coaching, use of the facilities, and any other gratuities that they receive from the university.
    It’s just another opportunity for lawyers and other opportunists to capitalize.
    Adopt a division III or Ivy League School philosophy.

  • Lance on 04.22.2014 at 10:42 am

    Only if that Sport is is bringing revenue to the school. And if so, the amount of revenue should determine how much the student should be paid on top of the free intuition, and other perks the already have. The students should also receive a base payment if their image is used in a video game of item to help bring revenue to the school. The Colleges are making BILLIONS, not Millions and a 4 year scholarship is a drop in the bucket for the College. The student should be able to capitalize on this.

  • Tony on 04.22.2014 at 11:24 am

    Don’t do it, the student athletes will pay a big price for it. from little league, AAU, junior Olympics, high schools etc. The conversation with an 18 year old regarding payment/ scholarship for his or her passion needs to be an honest one. Many of student athletes are in NCAA violation status, for receiving and participating in illegal activities. phone bills, entertainments, clothes are not included in the scholarship

  • Andrea Kontos on 04.22.2014 at 12:35 pm

    With the high and rising price of a college education, a free or reduced tuition is payment enough. A student athlete is a student!

  • Anonymous on 04.22.2014 at 5:11 pm

    The term “student-athlete” is used as justification to exploit the participants and repeating the term adds nothing to the conversation. If colleges insist on taking “amateur athletes” and signing billion dollar network contracts in conferences that do not make geographic since then the athletes that drive that revenue deserve some of the cut. If schools want to go back to a small-time environment where “students” aren’t regularly missing class to go to games. If sports are meant to create revenue, and more importantly drive marketing of schools, than let’s not pretend that it is anything different.

  • Jim in New Orleans on 04.22.2014 at 6:59 pm

    Not just no, but hell no. I have no problem with any student finding any creative means to finance their education, but the fact is that they get compensated with free tuition, room, board, and books for heaven’s sake for up to 4 years. That’s about a $250,000 value. The bottom line is that college is about education; the fact that most colleges have sports is what we in New Orleans would call lagniappe.

  • Just Saying on 04.23.2014 at 11:18 am

    Let’s not forget that nobody is forcing them to attend BU and play division I hockey under the existing NCAA rules. If they wish to play hockey for compensation, then there is an avenue for that choice. Many hockey players go the major junior and/or “minor” league route to the NHL. The whole college sports/union things sound like they want the best of both worlds, and don’t we all? But that is not how it usually works.

    • Anonymous on 04.23.2014 at 10:03 pm

      Hockey isn’t the issue…

      • King Anonymous on 04.25.2014 at 8:27 am

        On this campus, hockey is the only sport that is really competitive on a semi-regular basis or frequency. The others have an occasional athlete or team that is competitive on an elite level (i.e.,Peters in track or Taffur in wrestling) but the bulk of BU’s teams team are aligned on a Division I level (Patriot league) that is mediocre and should be delegated to a lower level.

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