I’m guessing that most of the focus on yesterday’s NLRB hearing on letting Northwestern football players unionize will be on David Berri’s economic testimony. However, the real meat of what was presented is something different.
But what can CAPA achieve while still playing by the NCAA’s rules? Colter brought up increased medical coverage and academic support on Tuesday, and both of those objectives are reasonable under the NCAA’s current bylaws. According to John Infante, who covers NCAA rules and compliance for The Bylaw Blog, medical care is “pretty much completely deregulated” by the NCAA.
“A lot of talk is about injuries sustained during practice and competition that the school’s not covering,” Infante said. “What the NCAA now allows is for not only any medical expenses, but also actual health insurance; they can provide that. I don’t think the NCAA would have a problem with (universities) providing healthcare to players after they graduate.”
Well, it shouldn’t, anyway. The reality is that it ain’t happening now. At least not in any meaningful, consistent way.
Right now, according to Infante, “schools can provide pretty much any medical expense” to athletes. CAPA wants to use collective bargaining to make sure schools are obligated to provide good coverage, not just allowed to do it.
In short: a union can make it a promise, not an option.
Although the NCAA does enforce strict rules on compensation, it has deregulated its medical coverage and academic support rules so that they are very open-ended. That lack of direct oversight over athletes at particular schools makes a case against the NCAA, and proving that the NCAA is a joint employer, difficult.
But here’s where it gets interesting. If the Northwestern players attempt to unionize is certified, the camel’s nose may get under the tent and force the NCAA into action.
… If Northwestern’s players earn better medical benefits through collective bargaining, that could be an advantage to use in recruiting over a school that does has not provided those benefits. Such an arrangement could cause a competitive imbalance, which could result in changes to the NCAA rulebook.
“As it establishes in different places, if players are going to be collectively bargaining for things the NCAA doesn’t allow or things the NCAA does allow but doesn’t require, but does affect competitive balance,” Infante said, “then what I think you’ll see is the NCAA adopt those rules nationally to maintain a somewhat stable playing field.”
I don’t see how anybody can find that an objectionable result, particularly an organization that routinely bleats about how it’s all about the student-athlete.
Let’s just say that if you’re really concerned about the health and welfare of your student-athletes, unionization looks a helluva lot more like a realistic solution than the fumbling around we’re witnessing with the proposed player substitution rule debacle.