Both sides have filed briefs in the NLRB hearing about certifying Northwestern’s football players as a union. There are several interesting assertions made by each, but a couple in particular are worth pointing out, considering some of the arguments I’ve read from you in comments on the subject.
One is about player compensation. Many of you believe that an athletic scholarship represents the way a student-athlete is compensated for providing his or her services. It may surprise you to learn that the school disagrees with you.
Although CAPA claims that a full-ride scholarship — worth $61,063 at Northwestern — is compensation, the university claims otherwise. From the brief:
Athletic scholarships are purely that—scholarships—and as such they are not treated as compensation for purposes of income taxes or withholdings… Student-athletes at Northwestern do not pay taxes on the athletic grant-in-aid… In addition, student-athletes at the University do not receive W-2’s for the athletic grant-in-aid.
Athletes also receive a stipend for food and living expenses when they move off-campus, but there are no tax deductions or withholdings from that money, either. CAPA argued that because some of the stipend money is deducted for mandatory meals, that means the university gets to decide what the players do with their money. However, Northwestern said that the money deducted for those meals is part of the “board” covered in the scholarship. The university also said athletes don’t receive benefit plans that other Northwestern employees receive.
Now some of this is obviously legal hairsplitting. But it’s also the kind of thing that comes back to bite you in the ass if the players prevail and at some point demand payment.
And how about this admission from Northwestern?
Northwestern contends that a “hypothetical free market does not and cannot exist in college sports under the current NCAA framework. Instead, chaos would exist under a regime where some football teams are unionized and some are not.”
At least it’s honest about that. But it’s hard to understand how a free market is okay for schools negotiating TV contracts, no problem for conferences raiding other conferences for new members, fine for coaches and administrators negotiating employment contracts, but not so for student-athletes facing increasing demands on their time from their athletic programs as well as the risk of physical injury.
I guess chaos is in the eye of the beholder.