At Division-I institutions, student-athletes are expected to give 40–50 hours per week to their program. While this time commitment is similar to that of a fulltime job, when students make the decision to pursue athletics at the collegiate level, they are signing on to be a student and an athlete.
A major difference between collegiate athletes and professionals is money; the pros make it and the NCAA sanctioned athletes do not. Professional athletes make money because being an athlete is their job, and although collegiate athletes may prioritize their sport, it is not their job.
The NCAA has worked to maintain the distinction between collegiate and professional athletes since it was founded. But recently, the NCAA has come under attack by both lawyers and college athletes. Lawyers are arguing that the NCAA and the power conferences have made billions of dollars off of football and basketball programs by withholding players’ compensation, while the players are arguing that they should be compensated for their use in video games and broadcasts.
This attack was perfectly timed with Chicago Regional Director of the National Labor Relations Board Peter Ohr’s ruling that Northwestern University’s scholarship football players should be eligible to form a union. Although this rule only applies to scholar ship football players at North western, it could eventually extend to other Division-I scholarship football players.
What this ruling means is that football players on scholarship at Northwestern are now employees of the university and thus can fight for better health care coverage or larger scholarships.
The decision is the first of its kind and has prompted many athletes from different universities to issue statements supporting or opposing the Northwestern football team.
Those that support Northwestern, like former Louisiana State University tight end Richard Dickson, see this as an opportunity to get more athletes to finish college before going straight to the NFL. Dickson argued that a few thousand dollars a semester could be helpful to scholarship athletes who struggle to find time for a well paying job.
The question then becomes: Where does the money come from? Players argue that the revenue brought in at bigger Division I institutions by football and basketball programs should be shared with the players. It would be near impossible for institutions to find an equitable way to distribute money. Should the bench-warming senior receive the same amount of money as the first-year star quarterback?
Also, a significant portion of funds at power conference schools is used to support student-athlete services and programs. Compensating players will take money away from these support systems.
At LSU, football players receive a plethora of support programs, such as a membership for schoolwork and tutoring services at the Cox Communications Academic Center for Student Athletes. LSU athletes also receive various forms of health care, which seem like they would benefit players more than a $2,000 per semester stipend.
Providing student-athletes with the services to become better athletes, while also focusing on education, is more useful than cash. You can argue that college athletes are adults who need to learn money management, especially if they hope for a future in the NFL or NBA, but giving them money does nothing. If you want to teach these athletes how to spend their money, enroll them in courses geared towards money management.
College athletes should not make money or be considered employees of their universities. While some athletes consider them selves athletes first and students second, they are still students and are at college to receive some kind of education.
Instead of demanding to form a union and receive compensation, players should be pushing for their institutions to use the money on programs that will directly support them in the future, like a course on injury prevention or NFL rules. Money spent on education and support services for college athletes will be more useful than cash in the long run.