published Monday, February 24th, 2014

Greeson: Even if no union allowed, change coming to college sports

Change is coming to the courts and fields of college sports, and that change will be ushered through the courts and filings of our legal system.

Last week, Northwestern University quarterback Kain Colter testified before the National Labor Relations Board, saying that football is a job and that college football players are employees of the university.

In what ESPN legal expert Lester Munson termed a "hopeful" first day for players, Colter repeatedly said football was a job and that his scholarship and stipend were paychecks. In fact, the legal representatives of his university even altered their argument, saying that the NLRB could view athletes as employees -- something that Northwestern's legal team steadfastly fought until this week -- but if they are employees, they are simply "temporary employees." As Munson noted, temporary employees are not permitted to form a union under our national labor laws.

While Northwestern coaches testified against change in Chicago -- including head coach Pat Fitzgerald forcefully stating his opposition -- Georgia football coach Mark Richt said last week that a complete overhaul could come before his current recruiting class is done with their eligibility.

"I don't know if you can unionize a thing that's not a workplace. These guys are students," Richt told "Press Row" on ESPN 105.1 FM. "They are putting work in obviously, but I think sometimes people don't understand education and the value of a degree.

"We worked hard to getting players as much as we can toward the cost of attendance, and we had a situation where everyone was going to get a couple extra thousand dollars a semester, and that got shot down because some schools couldn't afford that."

Still, whether schools can afford an extra line item on a scholarship may not be up to them in the years ahead. Colter and Co. are asking permission to unionize. Ed O'Bannon and his class-action cronies have been granted permission to continue their legal tug of war with EA Sports and the NCAA.

And the fact that the Northwestern legal team already is changing strategy speaks volumes about the seriousness of this suit and raises a potential disaster that could change the face of one of college football's biggest growth areas.

Granted, the change in strategy -- saying players possibly could be seen as employees but as temporary employees they can't form a union -- could prove to be effective long term. If the NLRB views college eligibility as temporary, the union issue is dead. But that debate -- whether college football players are temporary -- is also complicated and layered.

Yes, college scholarships are issued on a yearly basis, and that screams temporary, and college players have a four-to-six-year maximum time frame. But compare that to the NFL, which also has a lot of one-year deals and has an average career expectancy of between three and four years, and remember that the NFL has a union.

If the NLRB determines that college players are temporary employees, the recruiting process could be completely overhauled. If our national board of labor relations determines college football players in particular and college athletes in general to be temporary employees, the next wave in recruiting could be a Temp Athletics Agency that will for a price connect players and schools.

Heck, this could be the step to pay players on a per-sport basis if a sliding scale is set for the various sports and the various degrees of talent in said sports. It's a move that more than likely eventually will come because of the growing divide between the haves and have-nots in college sports and the different hurdles that apply to the varying classes in the modern-day college athletic caste system.

"There's a possibility of those schools that can afford it may break off from the NCAA, and you can legislate according to more like teams. Then I think you may see some things that might help," Richt told Press Row.

"I think you could see that happen within five years. I think so. I don't know exactly what that would look like, but I do think it's hard to set rules for schools that have all type of different issues because of where they are in enrollment, fan base, stadium size, whatever it is. We try to make a one size fit all when there really are certain like teams that ought to be grouped together and make the decisions that are the best for those teams."

Oh, yes, change is coming.

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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rdc919 said...

If they become viewed as employees or temporary contract employees, they will be taxed for the value of their scholarship and given a W2 or 1099.

February 24, 2014 at 7:56 a.m.
Maximus said...

As a former college football player on scholarship I can say without a doubt that the move by the Northwestern football players is politically motivated. Very interesting that this all started in Chicago, a city known for UAW/union thuggery and corrupt Democrat party machine politics. The UAW is plotting union activity all over the country and this is just one more of their tactics. Also:

The claim that football players "do not have a voice" is typical liberal messaging that is very suspicious. Again, I played four years of college football and we always had a voice. With the coaches, with the academic tutors provided free of charge, with the guidance councilors, with the athletic director, with the media, you name it, we basically had an open door policy. Also every school has an HR and legal department where any athlete, not just football could walk into the office and voice a concern or complaint. Finally, each player on scholarship is provided the very best in healthcare.

Like I did, players can get a summer job for three months and earn some spending money. I worked construction and learned some great life lessons along with working out on my own for ball.

Only 7% of the private sector workforce in the United States is unionized. It will be a very bad move for college football to adopt an obsolete union business model where the administrators will benefit and the players will suffer. Who is going to pay the monthly union dues for each player?

The GA head football coach made some great points and some changes need to be made but unionization of college football players is not one of them. If you probe deeper you will find that the UAW, which by the way is just another special interest group of the Democrat Party, is behind the Northwestern QB press conference.

February 24, 2014 at 8:28 a.m.
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