At Northwestern, they’re frantically trying to convince the players to put the unionization genie back in the bottle. The student-athletes and their families have questions, and, hey, the school has answers. Commence freaking out over a threat nobody’s voiced:
The “Background” section covers the school’s protocol if players strike: “Northwestern could potentially bring in replacement players, perhaps even asking the walk-on football players to cross the picket line,” and the tension from such a situation would be “unprecedented and not in everyone’s best interest,” the school states.
Boy, I’ll say.
Wonder why nobody asked the question how come schools and the NCAA didn’t take student-athlete complaints and concerns seriously until the lawsuits and the NLRB ruling started piling up. Because it sure seems like those threats are getting somebody’s attention. I mean, this is one helluvan analogy South Carolina’s president makes (h/t The Crystal Ball Run).
Shoring up the levee prior to Hurricane Katrina could have prevented the massive flooding that devastated New Orleans.
Determined not to make mistakes similar to those made in Louisiana, the NCAA more than three years ago began down a path toward transformation. Now, even amid rising waters, we are nearing the end of extensive work to shore up our governance structure, and soon we will provide better support for student-athletes.
On Friday, the Northwestern University football team will vote on unionizing. Regardless of the outcome of this vote and its potential ramifications, the NCAA must act now.
Admittedly, the wheels of progress have turned too slowly.
So the NCAA is voting on its new governance structure the day before the Northwestern unionization vote. That’s some fortuitous timing there, Brother Pastides.
If the NCAA vote passes and the Northwestern vote fails, my guess is that after you hear its enormous sigh of relief, the NCAA will blather about saving the game and will return to resting on its laurels. The short-term problem with that, of course, is that the antitrust suits are still out there and aren’t going away.
The long-term problem is that the foundational tension between amateurism and the enormous sums of money flowing into college sports isn’t going away, either.
The change has happened in part because of changing attitudes about amateurism and in part because of continued missteps by the NCAA. But it has mostly been about the money. And for all the money flying around college basketball, it’s college football that is raking in the craziest amounts: ESPN is paying reportedly $5.64 billion over 12 years for the upcoming College Football Playoff—six games each season. It is one thing to say that a $50,000 scholarship package is sufficient compensation for players when teams play 11 games a year on local television; it is quite another when the TV contracts are exceeding those of professional sports. The money has turned an abstract argument into a moral one.
The problem is that every fix seems to fundamentally alter things: You just can’t mend college sports without breaking them. At least, we haven’t figured out a way yet, as the recent challenges to the status quo show.
The biggest problem is that the NCAA hasn’t even tried to figure out a way yet. Admittedly, I’m not sure if it’s capable of finding a solution – although I’m pretty confident current leadership can’t – but waiting for the court cases to go badly before making the attempt strikes me as a profoundly stupid way of managing the situation.
And all we can do is watch.