As it happened on Tuesday, the same day that President Obama proposed the largest minimum wage increase in history, football players at Northwestern University petitioned federal labor officials for the right to form a union.
The College Athletes Players Association, with Northwestern’s co-captain and standout quarterback Kain Colter as its face, submitted registration cards to the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board.
It’s a bad idea but it’s about time this happened.
There will be many steps and many battles before the players gain collective bargaining rights. The NCAA is saying they’re not employees so they have no right to organize.
The would-be union, headed by a former UCLA player and represented by the United Steelworkers, says it’s not looking for big money, or any money at all, other than the basic, low pay that most people agree players should receive.
Rather, the union’s demands include “financial coverage for sports-related medical expenses, placing independent concussion experts on the sidelines during games, establishing an educational trusts fund to help former players graduate and ‘due process’ before a coach could strip a player of his scholarship for a rules violation,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
This has been brewing for decades, as big-time college football and basketball programs reap billions, larding up coaches’ salaries and university coffers. Players do get an education and a 4-year tryout for the NFL or NBA but that still leaves plenty of room for abuse, especially for the non-stars.
This will be a great fight, just as the national battle unfolds over Obama’s push for a $10.10 an hour minimum wage, up from $7.25 an hour. And they are linked, in that both are developments that would not happen in an ideal world, but have merit simply because the abuse has gone too far.
The whole point of a minimum wage is to set a floor that gradually rises, below which workers can’t get by without some form of outside help. Raising it radically might be jarring to the economy, but it hasn’t changed in five years and it was historically low even in 2009.
Likewise, NCAA athletes in big-time programs such as the Big 10 have seen everyone else get rich while they sacrifice not only every hour of free time, but their health.
Colter, a great natural leader, was among the players who wore the letters APU on their wristbands — for All Players United — in a Sept. 21 home game. That week, he told reporters the movement was not players vs. Northwestern, but teammates exerting their rights. “It’s players coming together for a better cause,” he said in a video posted by the Northwester News Network, run by students.
In a written statement, the NCAA said “This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education….We are confident the National Labor Relations Board will find in our favor, as there is no right to organize student-athletes.”
In the old system, boosters illegally snuck envelopes of cash into athletes’ hands and while that was corrupt and insidious, it took care of a few problems. Now we need a modern system to take care of players, just as the minimum wage needs to be indexed to inflation once and for all, so we don’t have to go through this charade of a debate every three years.
Instead of modernizing, Congress and the NCAA screw around doing nothing, so we get a president fighting for a 40 percent hike in the minimum wage and a college players union petition.
Flawed ideas whose time has come. Enough is enough.