Some Thoughts about a College Football Players Union

Some things to keep in mind while thinking about a college football players union

  1. In order to be paid fairly, colleges and universities in the big power conferences will have to pay their athletes more than they pay the highest paid professor.  And in some cases, such as big sports schools like Alabama or Notre Dame, a fair wage for some of the players would be in the millions of dollars.  Currently head coaches command most of the money in college football.  But that is only because they are the ones that currently wrangle free labor.  When this practice ends, so does paying coaches outrageous sums of money.  There’s a reason why coaches in pro sports make a lot less than the athletes.  It is because they are a lot less important to the final product.
  2. Similarly, the difference between the highest paid professor and the lowest paid professor vary wildly according to many factors something as basic as which department the professor works for.  You will see a similar thing happen to different sports.  Football players should be paid more than say the water polo team because they generate more money.  However, at the same time, this system is inherently sexist (and probably racist, and definitely homophobic) in a way that should be completely antithetical to any college or university’s mission.  Compliance to Title IX will be impossible and say goodbye to fringe sports such as rowing or tennis.
  3. The big colleges will be able to better support better programs because they have alumni stupid enough to donate money towards paying players.1 What this means is that smaller colleges will fade from any kind of relevance in college sports.  When making a decision, a recruited high school player will and SHOULD make their decision based on who can compensate them the best.  Just look at this chart.  No more Cinderella.
  4. Colleges and Universities actually owe billions of dollars to college athletes who played previous to this year, so good luck sorting all that out.
  5. Colleges and Universities can hardly get a handle on paying their teaching assistants or their support staff a fair wage.
  6. But it kinda doesn’t matter because if colleges and universities pay athletes fairly, then most of the revenue generated by college sports will not go towards supporting the teaching and research function of the university – which by the way, it already doesn’t – it will go towards supporting athletic departments (you might say that the revenue generated by college sports end up being athletic supporters.  TRY THE VEAL!).  Sports will no longer be a cash cow for the university and therefore, they will actually have very little incentive to maintain them at all.  This again is especially true for smaller schools.  Seriously, look at this chart.
  7. I have not even broached the cultural problems that big time college sports contributes to.  See Penn State, Jameis Winston, students running onto the court for no good reason.  These problems will most likely be exacerbated, particularly at Division I schools.

What I’m getting at here, is that while it is a good thing that the Northwestern football players won the right to unionize, this brings us closer to a system where one of the central function of the university will be managing a multi-billion dollar sports and entertainment business.  It is IMPOSSIBLE for colleges and universities to do this without undermining their core mission, which is educating students and producing knowledge via the research process. 

I know what you’re thinking.  Oh Bob!  You’re so reactionary!  Surely everyone will figure out a way to divide up the money fairly and in a way that benefits everyone.  Well, you’re wrong.  Most colleges and universities can’t even do this within their own academic departments. Come on people, this is America!  As the pie gets bigger, it doesn’t get divided more fairly, the opposite happens.

To reiterate – I am in complete support of college athletes organizing and fighting to be compensated fairly for their labor.  The system is a little less exploitative and that’s a good thing.  However, saying that paying players is going to fix the issues that college sports creates is like saying abstinence education is going to fix teen pregnancy (SPOILER ALERT: IT DOESN’T).

So, while the NRLB decision is a victory for student athletes,2  I don’t know if it is really a victory for higher education in the US.

  1. And let’s be honest, they are where they are because they already do this. []
  2. Honestly, I’m pretty sure that the NCAA will still find a way to exploit these kids []