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September 21, 2014
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NCAA labor unions will shift big-time athletic programs

The structure of college athletics is changing — and the NCAA is losing its power.

The National Labor Relations Board gave approval for the Northwestern University football team to unionize March 26, and the NCAA’s total reign over the college sports landscape is beginning to shift as a result.

But this transition of power from the NCAA isn’t happening overnight. The ruling will bring appeals, multiple courts’ involvements — maybe even the Supreme Court — and years of litigation that will take too long to explain.

However, the ruling bears the question: Will unions become a common practice for college teams across the nation? Personally, I don’t think that’s a feasible solution because creating unions is a change within the current NCAA system, rather than a revolution of all college sport. It’s an intriguing beginning to structural change, but not enough.

Despite the change, this ruling will probably not affect Division III institutions like Ithaca College. Division III sports are certainly not a profitable revenue stream, and Division III athletes aren’t offered athletic scholarship money. As a current student-athlete, I wouldn’t ever consider unionizing or deeming myself an employee of the college, seeing as though I consider myself lucky to play varsity lacrosse at the newly built $65 million Athletics and Events Center.

As I wrote earlier this semester, Division III athletes mostly play just for the love of the game. However, this is not always the case for Division I athletics. Not to delegitimize Division I athletes’ passion for their sport, but there are simply more factors these athletes are forced to deal with in this commercialized age of college sport.

Big-time Division I football and basketball have become more of a business than a stage for the best collegiate athletes. Big spending universities are making millions off players and acting naively about where the cash flow is coming from.

For example, as college basketball analyst Jay Bilas pointed out last August, universities sold jerseys that just happened to have star players’ numbers on the back. And if college athletes really are “amateurs,” why did the Ohio State University athletic director receive an $18,000 bonus March 25 because a wrestler won the national championship? It makes sense that athletes playing the profitable sports at these universities — who, according to Northwestern University quarterback Kain Colter’s testimony, devote 40–60 hours per week to their sport, and coaches encourage them to study different majors because schoolwork conflicts with athletics — would want a cut.

If Division I athletics are going to be synonymous with big business, then so be it. Accept it, pay the football and basketball players and treat Division I like a farm system for professional leagues. Because greed outweighs typical athletic purity in college sports, it’s time to stop pretending that Division I football and basketball players can still be considered “amateurs.”

After spending two weeks enjoying March Madness, a tournament that brings in $10 billion in television advertising rights for the NCAA annually, it’s time to protect the players putting in the hard work instead of the suits overseeing the events.