Editorial: Allow unions for college athletes


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The grandest spectacle in college basketball came to an end Monday night, as the NCAA men’s basketball championship closed with UCon’s 60-54 victory over Kentucky in the title game. The controversy over how the massive revenues raised by college athletics should be shared with student-athletes, however, continues.

In light of recent events, it has become clear that college athletes — particularly in the high-revenue areas of football and men’s basketball — are not properly compensated for their efforts and do not share in the financial windfalls won by their coaches and administrators when they succeed.

On Monday afternoon, UConn’s Shabazz Napier — one of the biggest stars in college basketball — added to the controversy by highlighting the financial struggles he faces, as do his teammates.

“We as students-athletes get utilized for what we do so well, and we’re definitely best to get a scholarship to our universities,” Napier told the media. “But at the end of the day, that doesn’t cover everything. We do have hungry nights that we don’t have enough money to get food in. Sometimes, money is needed.

“I feel like a student-athlete. Sometimes, there’s hungry nights where I’m not able to eat, but I still gotta play up to my capabilities. I don’t see myself as so much of an employee, but when you see your jersey getting sold, it may not have your last name on it, but when you see your jersey getting sold, to some credit, you feel like you want something in return.”

The lives of college athletes have been pushed into the limelight recently. The compensation offered to student-athletes was documented in the March court decision that upheld the right of Northwestern’s football players to form a union.

The decision broke down the daily lives of the university’s football players (unsurprisingly dominated by football), the many rules and restrictions under which they live, and the money provided for them, totaling about $61,000 per player, most of which goes toward tuition and fees.

UI law Professor N. William Hines, the head of the University of Iowa Presidential Committee on Athletics, said details of the Northwestern case raise questions about Iowa athletics.

“Among other things, it makes you wonder ‘Gee, I wonder if that’s how our football team lives,’ ” Hines said.

It’s clear that for all the money they bring in for athletics departments across the country and the NCAA, student-athletes are not properly compensated. That is not to say that they aren’t compensated at all, of course. They receive scholarships and stipends to cover their housing expenses, but, as the judge ruled, “scholarship players are truly dependent on their scholarships to pay for basic necessities, including food and shelter.” If their scholarship status is dependent on their performance, as the judge ruled was the case, they deserve the protection of a union and whatever benefits follow from collective bargaining.

It may not be feasible to pay salaries to players — the economics of such a development would likely cripple college athletics — but more could be done.

If nothing else, athletes should have the right to act collectively for better working conditions: medical coverage after graduation, marketing rights to their images, a trust for players who come back seeking more education, and expansion of scholarships.

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