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.