Did you feel that?
It was just a tremor, something so insignificant that it likely escaped your attention altogether. But that miniscule movement promises to grow ever more strong and powerful in the months and years to come - until it becomes a massive quake that completely dislodges and upends the current landscape of collegiate sports.
We're talking about a modification in the basic way that student athletes are being perceived in the sports universe: from grateful scholarship recipients to revenue-generating employees. And that tectonic shift started with a single event that transpired last month.
3 The Ruling Heard 'Round the College Sports World
Back on March 26th, the National Labor Relations Board's Chicago district ruled that football players at Northwestern University are indeed employees of the school - and therefore have the right to form a labor union. Peter Sung Ohr, regional director for the NLRB, stated that players' scholarships were directly linked to the time they put in on the practice and playing fields, and that the players fit the "common law definition of 'employee.'"
The NLRB ruling clears the way for Wildcat players to hold a vote to form a union that would be represented by the College Athletes Players Association. Kain Colter, the former NU quarterback who helped spearhead the effort, said that he believes most of the 85 current scholarship members of the team would vote in favor of unionization.
2 Events Which Led to the Landmark Ruling
This legal action began with a so-called online "rant" delivered by Colter, which was the basis for a two-page letter that he sent to the National College Players Association. He was concerned about the vulnerability of scholarship college athletes, both to injury that isn't covered by full medical coverage as well as the sudden withdrawal of their scholarships and their subsequent failure to complete their education. So Colter, helped from the CAPA as an advocacy group for players' rights, highlighted issues such as procedures to reduce head injuries, opportunities for athletes to share in the revenue from commercial sponsorships, and the provision to current and former football players of guaranteed insurance coverage for sports-related health care costs.
This certainly isn't the first time that someone has questioned whether or not college athletes are getting a fair shake financially. For years, there have been stories about how many players who come from poor families have to scrape to find funds for meals, housing, or additional classroom materials and supplies.
In addition, there are some other lawsuits currently making their way through the courts regarding college athlete compensation. A few are seeking monetary damages for the NCAA's alleged failure to protect players from head injuries, and the league is also embroiled in a class-action lawsuit filed by former players who want compensation from the huge pot of money received by the NCAA from live TV and radio broadcasts, video games, and sales of memorabilia.
1 What Will the Future Hold for College Sports?
That said, the NLRB ruling is still likely to have a major impact on collegiate athletics in general, even though no one seems to know exactly what that impact will look like.
After all, the notion of unionized college athletes tends to beget more questions than answers. For instance:
The most certain statement that can be made about this development is that the U.S. will never view college athletics in quite the same light as before. Whether the unionization efforts are ultimately successful, or the schools approve other measures to address athletes' issues (like stipends, guaranteed scholarships, or more comprehensive medical care); it's nearly impossible to go back to the way of thinking prior to this ruling. In other words, players are no longer considered to be "student athletes" who participate in a game in exchange for free tuition, but rather "revenue earning" representatives of their universities who may be entitled to a bigger slice of the money pie.
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