Following Wednesday's ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that college football players at Northwestern University can unionize, we invision a (hypothetical) negotiating table where Marshall (Texas) High School running back Cole Pyle, his parents, his agent, his lawyer and attorneys for his future employer, the University of Michigan, are gathered to consider his contract:
Solomon Brendenhoff (Pyle's agent): Here are our non-negotiables. A salary, starting at $100,000 as a freshman, and rising $100,000 a year to $400,000 when Cole's a senior. Full health-care coverage, and we're not talking any of that Obamacare stuff. We're talking a Cadillac plan, similar to what's available for Congress. A furnished off-campus apartment. A new car of his choice in the $40,000-$50,000 range. We want to be reasonable, after all. A maximum of one academic class per semester, as long as it fits his practice schedule. Oh, and, immunity from any local charges upon the commission of crimes.
Phelps Byzentine (University of Michigan attorney): OK, we can do most of that, but I don't think we can guarantee the immunity. We can certainly look the other way, but ...
Brendenhoff: OK, look. We'd accept federal charges because we don't think Cole would do anything that rash, but kids will be kids. A little weed. Minor prescription drugs. A hookup here and there, maybe, that wasn't the girl's idea. I mean, he's a good-looking kid, wouldn't you say?
Byzentine: Well, uh, sure. We can probably work that out if the discretions are kept to campus. We'll talk to campus police and let them know he's off limits.
Brendenhoff: Good, good. Now, I know you already have a pension plan in place -- $500 a month for life, right? And full medical care if, God forbid, something -- you know -- permanent were to happen on the field.
Byzentine: Right. Or course, you understand if he goes to the NFL that pension is cut in half because he'll have an NFL pension?
Brendenhoff: Of course. So let's talk about some of the other points. Since Cole is your designated marquee player, we'd like him to have his own port-a-potty at the practice field, first-class seating on team flights, a luxury suite for road games and a personal assistant.
Byzentine: A personal assistant? That's a new one for us.
Brendenhoff: We want somebody available to get him what he needs, to keep pesky fans away from him, to do his homework -- that sort of thing.
Byzentine: He'll only have one class, but we've probably got a student we can put on work-study to do that. Go on.
Flora Pyle (Cole's mother): I'd like to say something here. I'd really like to have it in his contract that no coaches yell at him. We've never yelled at him, and anything like that would damage his self-esteem and might keep him out of the NFL.
Byzentine (sighing heavily): OK, Mrs. Pyle, sure. We've got similar contracts with some of our other players. Some contractually can receive only five minutes of yelling per practice, some 10. That's why we've hired a new assistant coach for verbal relations.
Brendenhoff: One of the things I know you're concerned about, Mr. Byzentine, is whether or not Cole would join CHUMP, the College Holy Union of Managed Players. We're willing to do this: For a $1 million, tax-deferred signing bonus, he won't join the union. I know you don't want to have any scenes like last year when Boston College suddenly decided to strike when it fell behind Florida State 41-0 at the half. That was kind of embarrassing, I know you'll admit, and the TV folks really don't like that, because they're paying the freight.
Byzentine: I think what you're suggesting is illegal, but we paid players under the table for years before college athletics were ever unionized. (Laughs nervously.) So we could work that out. Oh ... nobody's recording this, are they?
Brendenhoff: No, no tapes are running.
Byzentine (suddenly wistful): Remember not so long ago when athletics were played purely for the enjoyment of the sport, when kids said they got something out of the competition, that it made them better people? When athletics were just something you did to help pass the time between school days?
Cole Pyle: Daddy, what's he talking about?
Sam Pyle (Cole's father): Hush, Son, your future's at stake.