Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

A More Purrrfect Union?

Football players at Northwestern University on Friday became the first U.S. student athletes to cast ballots in an election to decide whether to unionize.

The vote, which has the potential to upend college sports, was supervised by the U.S. National Labor Relations Board in a university building near the football field on the Evanston, Illinois, campus.

But the outcome will likely remain unknown for months. The NLRB is impounding the ballots cast by the players, who voted before and after workouts on a sunny, windy Friday morning, with small groups of four or five players wearing their Wildcats purple practice jerseys voting.…

Okay, for non-college football fans Northwestern’s mascot is the Wildcat so now the title makes sense.

I have grown to think that college athletes should be paid; I just haven’t worked out all the details yet.  Football and/or basketball is for many schools a huge money-maker that survives largely off the backs of the young men and women who play the sport.  

Talking to reporters in the stadium parking lot on voting day, former Wildcats non-scholarship player Michael Odom said: “Everyone is getting paid except for the players – coaches get paid, the university gets paid, the guy who cuts the grass gets paid. But the guys out there sacrificing their bodies and actually making money for all these people are not getting paid.”


Wildcats football recruits receive a “tender” that details the terms and conditions of their scholarship offer. Outside employment, social media use and behavior are all restricted. Northwestern exercises the type of control over players that employers do over employees, Ohr concluded.


Players spend 40 to 50 hours per week during the regular season practicing, playing and traveling to games, and receive scholarship assistance worth about $61,000 per year, Ohr noted.

“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 wrote.

The five-member NLRB board said on Thursday it would grant Northwestern’s request to review Ohr’s decision. As a result, the outcome of Friday’s election will not be announced until the board decides whether to affirm, modify or reject Ohr’s finding.

College is now more of a minor league farm system than an institution of higher learning.  And so many are one-and-done, particularly in basketball, meaning they play one year for the exposure and then head off to the NBA or NFL although if I recall correctly there is an age limit that needs to be meant before a player can jump to the NFL that has to do with fitness.

This started years ago and was highlighted recently by an ESPN documentary on Michigan’s Fab Five who while being one of the greatest recruiting classes of all times were a huge marketing driver while reaping little of the benefits.  College sports has become a business with venues being sponsored by corporations and coaches making seven figures.  Meanwhile the players (legally) get nothing.

A close-to-home point was made to me as a huge Ohio State University Buckeyes fan when several OSU players were suspended and/or left the team a couple of years ago when the NCAA started an investigation into how the players had sold/bartered gifts they had received.  A season was vacated and the school was barred from bowl games for a year.  Look, if the players violated the rules they and the school should be punished.  But what sticks in my craw is that the coach of the Buckeyes who withheld information from the NCAA, Jim Tressel, signed with the Colts the season after he resigned.  If I recall correctly all he lost was the wins and losses from that year.  Meanwhile at least one player had to sit out of the NFL for a year.

The current system is unfair and wishing that college meant learning for all students is so obviously not the case anymore.  What the solution is I don’t know.  Taking the college part out of the equation may be one option but that will happen right around George Clooney proposing to me.

So it will be interesting to see which way the vote goes and what, if any, affect this has on college sports going forward.


  1. Obviously, integrity optional.

    College players should be compensated in some way. Maybe not salaries but something. And they need the protection of a union so that they are not tossed on the dung heap if they get hurt and can’t play. The kids make the commitments and have to sit out if they change their minds. If the college changes their minds? No penalty.

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