March 26 went down in history as a day that could change college athletics forever.
The National Labor Regulations Board in the U.S. ruled that football players at Northwestern University, which is located just outside of Chicago, IL., qualified as employees and can unionize.
In a phone interview with ESPN, former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter said the NCAA has used the term student athlete to prevent situations like college athletes unionizing.
This ruling is not to ensure that Northwestern’s football players are going to be paid wages, but that their scholarships are guaranteed.
Scholarships can be taken away if a player doesn’t perform to an expected level due to injury or failure to maintain academic standards.
This motion is to ensure that these players’ scholarships are protected because they spend a lot more time training and preparing for games than they spend in an academic setting.
Marcus Lam-Peters, a defensive back for Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Que. said he agrees with the NLRB ruling.
“The whole thing is that they are going to school for the purpose of an education, but because they are on the football team at the same time they end up putting more energy and focus on athletics, which benefits the school more than it does for the players,” Lam-Peters said.
The U.S. department of education reported that in 2012 the NCAA made $872 million in ticket sales. In comparison, over a nine year span from 2003-2012, Northwestern made $235 million.
“If the same people that help build the program and bring in millions of dollars in revenue can have their scholarships revoked then there needs to be a serious investigation,” Lam-Peters said.
Lam-Peters said this ruling would not apply to Canadian Interuniversity Sport because of the smaller market.
“In Canada you aren’t even supposed to be getting full scholarships, the scholarships that we are entitled to are supposed to be merit based, but some coaches find their way around that,” Lam-Peters said.
Lam-Peters said because the market is smaller and there aren’t as many players on a CIS roster compared to the NCAA, unionizing wouldn’t be possible.
“The NCAA as a league brings in hundreds of millions of dollars every year so it’s more of a business than the CIS,” Lam-Peters said. “The CIS is on a much smaller scale so they aren’t making anywhere near as much money so it wouldn’t be the same in Canada.”
Lam-Peters said as a student athlete it’s very difficult to put 100 per cent effort into two commitments, especially if a school is making millions of dollars off of your sweat.
“I’m not saying the athletes should get paid or anything but I do think having protected scholarships, secure meal plans and health benefits is a step in the right direction,” Lam-Peters said.
Bishop’s Gaiter receiver Ryon McCalla said he is all for student athletes unionizing.
“The revocation of scholarships, whether it be full or partial, is an issue that both sides of the border deals with,” McCalla said.
McCalla said one day in the not so distant future CIS athletes will unionize.
“I think it will make its way over here because if you can protect teachers, if you can protect construction workers why not protect athletes who put their bodies at risk playing a dangerous sport like football?
“If you can protect all these people in a union and make sure they have something to fall back on, then students athletes should have that same right because they are at just as much, if not more at risk, of jeopardizing their lives,” McCalla said.
Western Mustang outside linebacker Philippe N’Djore said for those athletes to put their bodies on the line just to play a sport, some form of union is needed.
“It is important especially for those athletes who aren’t big time recruits. I mean, you go to practice everyday just to earn a spot on the game day roster and you get hurt, your scholarship can be taken away and inevitably ruin your life, especially if you can’t afford to pay for school,” N’Djore said.
“The reason they are in school is to get an education not just play sports,” N’Djore said. “If their chances of coming away with a degree is in jeopardy then I do feel that unionizing is necessary.”