End the NCAA’s plantation economics

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(NNPA)—“It cannot be said that the employed scholarship players are ‘primarily students.’” With that statement, a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board last week accepted a petition by Northwestern football players that they were employees under the NLRB and could organize and form a union.

His reasoning was simple and compelling. The players faced all the demands of a job—in the hours the players worked, 40-50 hours a week during the football season, the control the coaches exerted, and the athletic scholarships that are a form of pay. The players said they wanted a union largely to negotiate about health care and practice hours.

Many who love college sports can’t bear to think of it as polluted by money. But here’s the reality: it already is. Big-time college athletics—particularly Division I football and basketball—is a profitable, professionalized industry. The TV rights for the new college football playoffs total $7.3 billion—with a “b”—over 10 years. The TV rights for March Madness, the basketball playoffs, total $10.8 billion over 14 years. College football and basketball alone generates an estimated $6 billion a year, more than the National Basketball Association. The University of Texas football team generated nearly $70 million in profit in 2011.

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