Tag Archive: College Athletics

Mar 28 2014

College Football Team Wins Right to Unionize

Collegiate athletes have won the right to unionize:

A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled Wednesday that a group of Northwestern football players were employees of the university and have the right to form a union and bargain collectively.

For decades, the major college sports have functioned on the bedrock principle of the student-athlete, with players receiving scholarships to pay for their education in exchange for their hours of practicing and competing for their university. But Peter Ohr, the regional N.L.R.B. director, tore down that familiar construct in a 24-page decision.

He ruled that Northwestern’s scholarship football players should be eligible to form a union based on a number of factors, including the time they devote to football (as many as 50 hours some weeks), the control exerted by coaches and their scholarships, which Mr. Ohr deemed a contract for compensation.

“It cannot be said that the employer’s scholarship players are ‘primarily students,’ ” the decision said.

The NCAA’s “Student-Athlete” Charade Is Officially Crumbling

By Jordan Weissmann, Slate

{..} I’d like to draw attention to the refreshingly obvious point that Peter Ohr, director of the NLRB’s Chicago office, makes on page 18 of his opinion. No matter what the NCAA wants you to think, Northwestern’s scholarship football players, he writes, “are not primarily students.” It’s that simple.

Why not? Because math:

 * Players spend 50 to 60 hours a week on football during a training camp before school starts.

 * They also dedicate 40 to 50 hours per week on football during the four-month season. “Not only is this more hours than many undisputed full-time employees work at their jobs, it is also many more hours than the players spend on their studies,” Ohr writes. They spend 20 hours per week in class and more doing homework, sure, but they also work on football outside of official practice time. Ohr’s equation also doesn’t seem to take into account the off season. But, he writes, it “cannot be said” that they “spend only a limited number of hours performing their athletic duties.”

This is not the crux of the case, but it is a direct retort to the mostly fictive concept of the big-time scholar-athlete. Ohr is saying that Northwestern’s players are athletes first, students second. Throughout the decision, he recounts the ways in which team members are expected to prioritize athletics over school-for instance, by avoiding classes that might conflict with practices, even if the courses are necessary for their major. The fact that the university tries to support them with tutors and study hall requirements only underscores “the extraordinary time demands placed on the players by their athletic duties,” he writes. [..]

This distinction matters legally, because Northwestern had argued that the NLRB should apply the test it used when it ruled in 2004 that graduate teaching assistants at Brown could not unionize. Part of the board’s reasoning, at the time, was that while TAs indeed do lots of work as instructors, they are primarily at school to learn, and teaching is one of their degree requirements. Ohr found that the Brown test wasn’t applicable, because nobody is required to play cornerback to earn a bachelor’s degree. But even if the test did apply, it still wouldn’t stop football players from unionizing, because of the sheer amount of time they spend on the field and at the gym rather than in their lecture halls.

The Northwestern University Football Union and the NCAA’s Death Spiral

By Dave Zirin, The Nation

Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered,” – Mark Cuban

[..]

This decision marks the first real crack in the NCAA cartel in any of our lifetimes. It is also far from over. Northwestern University is leading the appeals process for now. They want the NLRB decision squelched for two reasons, both based in fear. They are afraid that if the football players can unionize, then the graduate teachers, the custodial staff, the work-study students and the cafeteria workers will all say, “If they can be a recognized union, then why not us?” That simply cannot happen in today’s neoliberal university system. Northwestern may fear those below them, but they fear those above them even more. That would be the Big 10 conference and the NCAA. If their football players are allowed to collectively bargain, the NCAA could shut them out, turning off the spigots from which the almighty revenue streams of cable television money seem to endlessly flow. Yet whatever response Northwestern is conjuring, it pales in comparison to the scorched earth about to be fired from the NCAA’s legal guns. For Northwestern, this jeopardizes the power arrangements on their campus, but for the NCAA, this decision threatens their very existence.

The NCAA is now in a fight for its life. Their power emanates solely from its position as a cartel. That means they have the controlling authority to hold every school to the same byzantine ground rules or suffer the consequences. This controlling authority is currently being crippled under the weight of its own greed. This controlling authority has created an unsustainable system of free-market, freewheelin’ capitalism for coaches and indentured servitude for players. This controlling authority allows the NCAA to turn its so-called student-athlete players into walking billboards for the pleasure of their corporate sponsors. This controlling authority has taken maximum advantage of the fact that the two revenue producing sports, football and basketball, tend to be populated by impoverished people of color. They have created a system of $11 billion television contracts where coaches make 100 times what they made thirty years ago. They have kept their foot on the gas, making and remaking conferences, destroying traditional rivalries and all with a short-term eye on the bottom line. Through it all they never reassessed the position of the players themselves and now they are paying the price. Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.