The National Labor Relations Board, Chicago district, ruled last week that Northwestern University football players qualify as employees. This ruling allows NU athletes to form a union. The ruling only applies to private schools as of now.
Former NU quarterback Kain Colter spearheaded the push to allow players to unionize. In an interview on ESPN Radio, Colter explained the main issues the ruling addressed.
“Right now, the NCAA and conferences and schools make all of these rules and regulations and decisions that the student athletes must follow, but we never once had a say in those decisions,” he said. “Yesterday was just ensuring that we have a voice. Making sure we have a union representing us in all regards to our experience.”
The NCAA came out with its own statement, disagreeing with the ruling. Many experts’ fear is that this ruling is the first step in the movement for college athletes being paid.
“We strongly disagree with the notion that student athletes are employees,” said NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy in a statement. “We frequently hear from student athletes, across all sports, that they participate to enhance their overall college experience and for the love of their sport, not to be paid.”
Jerry Bovee, Weber State University director of intercollegiate athletics, said he doesn’t see players wanting pay as the main issue.
“I think the core issue here is that the players generally want to have a seat at the table,” Bovee said. “They want to discuss things. They are concerned about their health. In the information that I’ve read about this case, I don’t get the sense that they are looking to monetize their experience.”
Colter named three main issues he hopes will be addressed now that players will be allowed to unionize. The first is medical protection. The NCAA is under no obligation to help any college player who goes down with an injury, according to Colter. This is especially true with players who suffer from nagging injuries after their careers are over, but have no means to pay for treatment. Colter also voiced his concern over the workload and graduation rates of student athletes.
“I don’t think putting in 40-50 hours a week enhances you academically, which is the whole purpose,” he said. “We are brought to the university to play football. A lot of times, when you are scheduling your classes, you have to schedule around your football schedule. After your football duties are taken care of, then you can go to class and get your education.”
Bovee agreed, saying more discussion is needed on how to make a student athlete’s job easier.
“If you came and walked with a student athlete on a daily basis to see how that is, it’s a pretty tough road. I do think that down the road there will be some discussion about making sure that at least they have their needs met, like a stipend. We’ve got to take care of the basic needs if you are going to ask them to come and basically give their lives to you.”
Bovee said WSU has several programs already in place that help better the college experience by using input from the student athletes. He said he conducts exit interviews with each athlete after their time is complete at WSU.
“I interview athletes a lot about the experience and how things are going,” Bovee said. “I think a good administrator does that. And they will tell you the truth. There have been a lot of communications administratively with our student athletes. There is not a separation at Weber State. We try to stay dialed in with our students here.”
As for monetary concerns, Colter agreed that scholarships are the pay for athletes, but he said more could be done to help the athletes, especially on the medical side of things. Pay for play is not at the forefront of the ruling.
Bovee agreed, but said WSU will be watching closely for further developments.
“These guys realize that this is a lot bigger than just Northwestern,” Colter said. “It affects a lot of people. At the end of the day, this is what our goal was. Our goal was to have a voice — a voice for our working conditions. This truly is a victory.”