To its credit, Northwestern ranks No. 1 among the six power conferences (ACC, Big East, Big-Ten, Big-12, Pac-12 and SEC) with an 83 percent graduation rate. Even so, Kain Colter, their former quarterback and the leader of the movement to allow college football players to form a union, was steered away from pursuing a pre-med curriculum because a chemistry class conflicted with football practice. Consequently, he ended up majoring in psychology.
In the Northwestern case, NLRB Regional Director Ohr ignored the myth of the ‘student-athlete” and decided that Northwestern football players are primarily employees whose principal job is to generate revenue. And that’s just the beginning of the NCAA’s woes.
Next up is the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit. In that case, former college athletes are challenging the NCAA’s ability to profit off the name and likeness of players without compensating them. In the most direct challenge yet to the NCAA’s economic model, Jeffrey Kessler, the attorney who helped represent the NFLPA in the landmark antitrust case in which NFL players won free agency, has filed suit accusing the NCAA of colluding to deprive athletes of earning more than the value of their scholarships.
The main objective of Kessler’s lawsuit is to strike down permanently the restrictions that prevent Division 1 basketball and football players from being fairly compensated for the billions of dollars in revenues they help generate.
If judges in upcoming court cases challenging the NCAA apply the same objectivity as the NLRB exemplified, a union will be the least of the NCAA’s worries. As a preemptive strike against the inevitable change in college sports, don’t be surprised if you see both public and private universities begin to offer forms of compensation beyond the traditional college scholarship.
In order for the NCAA to remain relevant, it cannot continue to defend a system that results in so many lost college opportunities, especially concentrated among Black males from low- and middle-income families. These changes should not be restricted to universities; they should also extend to the colleges themselves, coaches, advertisers, television networks, facility operators, athletic gear manufacturers and retailers.
The wholesale exploitation of college athletes is the true definition of unsportsmanlike conduct.
(Everett L. Glenn, an attorney and former sports agent, was one of the first agents to represent multiple NFL and NBA first-round draft picks in the same year. His clients have included three NFL Hall of Fame inductees and 11 first-round draft picks. He is author of a NNPA three part series detailing how the sports industry exploits not only Black athletes, but other African-Americans—accountants, financial advisers, banks, construction firms, etc.—who are capable of rendering services.)