The debate over whether college football players should be paid has been around for a long time. On first hike it seems like a good idea. It seems correct legally, but if we look deeper I will argue that the federal ruling this year could change the entire college experience for students, alumni, fans, athletes, and non-athletes, and not in a good way.
A column in The Washington Post on March 27 reports that “a federal labor official recently ruled that big-time college football players on a full ride are exactly what many critics always thought they were: paid employees of their universities.
They get compensated not for attending school but for playing football. Unlike students on scholarship, they thus are legally entitled to form a union.
The National Labor Relations Board got involved when Northwestern University rebuffed efforts by a former quarterback, Kain Colter, to organize a union of players in order to obtain, among other things, medical coverage for players left with lifelong problems because of injuries on the field.
While the ruling by Peter Sung Ohr, the Chicago regional director of the NLRB, does not apply to public universities and may ultimately require a Supreme Court decision for resolution, it was nonetheless historic.”
The ruling opens up a lot of dangerous doors that will have to be evaluated and debated.
* How much money should college athletes be paid? Will there be signing bonuses?
* Should athletes at all schools (rich or poor) be paid the same?
* Should players be paid by position, i.e., a QB more than a lineman? Should skilled positions be paid more than those that take a constant physical beating or vive-versa?
* Should athletes that excel on the field be paid more than the others? (performance bonuses)
* Does a second year player get more than a first year player?
* Will a red-shirt senior make the most?
* Will basketball, baseball, lacrosse, track, tennis, golf, wrestling, badminton and ping-pong athletes also get paid?
* Ultimately, in a dispute, some athlete will hire a lawyer or two and the circus will become a three-ringer. How long before a star high school player sues for pay?
* In the end college football, as we now know it, will become another pro-league and a haven for sports agents.
* The richest teams will prevail in attracting the best athletic talent. Those slightly less talented athletes who play for the love of the game might get squeezed out altogether.
* For the fan the Saturday afternoon college football game, the storied rivalries, and all the weekend tradition that accompanies it will lose much of its charm.
People often speak of the “unintended consequences” of any major action. Stay tuned and watch one of our nation’s finest traditions crumble.
Michael Arnold Glueck, Newport Beach, is a fantasy football player. That is, he fantasizes about throwing just one touchdown pass.