Did you hear the one about college football players forming a union?
Yeah, unfortunately I did, too, and it makes about as much sense as the town of Vail moving their administrative offices to Broomfield.
I have never been a fan of unions, but that’s mainly because the big unions of my generation have left the taste of fresh bile in most people’s mouths.
In the early 20th century they provided a valuable service to the American worker. Small, focused entities looking out for workers, fixing horrible working conditions for coal miners, kids in textile mills being paid pennies on the dollar and so on paved the way for what eventually became known as the “American work ethic” (not to mention the middle class) and helped propel the U.S. to our numero uno worldwide status.
But then groups like the UAW, United Steel Workers and the Teamsters became greedy and decided to ruin it for the masses.
The thing is though, I have no problem with bargaining in a collective fashion for something better if a situation deems it necessary and is economically sustainable for all involved.
Either way, the National Labor Relations Board recently ruled that Northwestern football players (the fighting Wildcats!) who receive full scholarships qualify as university employees and can unionize.
Excuse me, but a full scholarship athlete already receives anywhere from $10,000 to about $60,000 (on average) annually at any of the over 1,000 NCAA member institutions to cover tuition, room, board, fees, books, meal plans, perhaps a computer or two and at least one shot at pledging during rush week.
How in the world does that not qualify as compensation?
Put it this way: Have all scholarship athletes during the past 100 years lived in squalor while the NCAA and its members have raked in billions in revenue at their expense?
Of course not, and yes.
But only a tiny handful of schools make a profit from their athletic departments, with the vast majority relying on subsidies just to break even and the rest at a loss.
Where does the money come from to pay for the 99 percent of NCAA sports programs that do not make a profit? More subsidies from our tax dollars and rate and tuition hikes for actual students?
Schools like Alabama, Texas, Michigan and Ohio State could shell out millions without blinking a skewed eye, and it would take recruiting of high school athletes to a whole new level, but only to those schools, as the other 99 percent would be left with little Tommy, the skinny kid that nobody wants on their team.
Unleashing such a financial competition would spell doom for most college level programs, leaving what few remain as farm teams for the pro leagues.
The ruling, as it stands right now, only applies to private colleges, but no matter how it plays out, dozens of schools (and athletes) will be crying foul and filing lawsuits.
Unionizing would do for college sports what it did for Detroit, and most programs would simply cease to exist.
Richard Carnes, of Edwards, writes weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.