Unionizing Will Be the Death of College Sports: Here’s Why

football23I’ve been a huge fan of college sports for as long as I can remember. Even at 12 years old, I was making bets with my teachers on college games. The death of college athletics could be upon us in the not so distant future, however — about a decade from now — if current college football players get what they are looking for.

For those who don’t follow college sports that much, the football team at Northwestern University banned together and sued Northwestern in an attempt to unionize so they could be treated as employees of the University — and they won (at the first stage anyway). All of this comes from current players’ desire to get paid while playing sports at a university. To them, their scholarships for free tuition, room, and board aren’t enough compensation to participate in college athletics, and the students have a point. While they get free tuition and money to cover their room and board, the money isn’t really enough to realistically cover the cost of food and entertainment. And with the demands that come from playing big time college sports, getting a year-round side job isn’t really an option. This leaves the players in a bit of a bind. Regardless, becoming paid athletes is going to put future players in a bigger bind — as in, there will be no future college athletics.

Becoming college employees or paid college players raises a number of questions that college athletes probably haven’t thought much about. If college athletes are considered employees of the universities for which they play, would the inclusion of scholarships be part of that pay? And if so, would those scholarships be subject to income tax? Are the athletes aware that employees jobs’ are terminable? Have these student athletes really thought about how their time requirements might change? And how much should these students earn to play college sports? Have they thought about what this will do to the millions of kids who are about 10 years out from college whose only chance at going to college is through an athletic scholarship? Those are the kids this movement is going to hurt the most. Many kids in poorer areas of the country get an opportunity to go to college and get an education. They have the opportunity to try to better their situation and their family’s situation. What I worry about is that this movement to pay college athletes will eventually take those opportunities away because most universities can’t afford to pay college athletes.

Not all universities are created equal. Many universities operate just barely in the black, and many others operate in the red. Bigger name universities with big donors and poor priorities like Texas, Alabama, and Oregon can afford to dump millions of dollars on its student athletes, but the vast majority of other colleges, like Wyoming, Colorado State, Purdue, and Indiana State, wouldn’t be able to afford to pay its student athletes and would have to cancel sports altogether. Most people mistakenly look at just football and men’s basketball as the players the universities would have to pay, but that won’t fly. Women athletes will have to be paid too, and they will have to be paid on par with the men, and there’s just not that much money floating around to make that happen. If a university cannot afford to pay all of its men and women athletes, the sports side of that university will have to become a thing of the past. That will eliminate the opportunity to get an education for millions and millions of kids.

Instead of being treated as employees of the universities, other student athletes would like to be able to accept money from boosters for autographs and jerseys. They would like to be able to sell their appearances and their name, but that would kill college athletics as well. At least, it would kill competition in the major sports. It all falls back to the big university names. That kind of an atmosphere would create a free agent like market where kids pick the highest bidder and only the universities with the biggest donors ever have a chance at really competing. The rest of the college football and basketball landscape would have to fall away into a less privileged league leaving a handful of teams capable of paying players what they desire.

I would be sad to see college sports disappear for selfish reasons, but most of all because of how many future kids will be harmed by this movement. College sports, specifically football and to some extent basketball, is the sewage of the sporting world. Greedy college presidents and boosters create the current that keeps the sewage flowing, and the NCAA is the gutter that guides the sewage down its path to wherever it goes. College presidents and the NCAA created this atmosphere of greed and they have themselves to blame for this predicament. Colleges and the NCAA sought to scrape up as much money by finding ways to bring in millions and millions of dollars each year all while largely overlooking the needs of the key cogs in their money making system — the players. Now the players are looking out for themselves trying to get in on some of that greed created by college presidents and the NCAA, and in the end it will bring the whole thing crashing down and cause the death of college athletics.

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