Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

I was going to toss out another #ThowbackThursday today, but instead I decided to go a different direction. Waaaaay different. As most of you know, tomorrow 76 scholarship players at Northwestern University will vote on whether or not to unionize. What does this possible unionization mean? Who's for it, who's against it, and why? How will it affect them…and the sport as a whole?

Let's take a look.
Northwestern's Kain Colter, circa 2012
First, I feel like I should just clear the air by saying that I don't have a dog in this fight. If NU players want to form a union in order to be able to bargain for whatever they want, that's up to them. They've been granted the right to vote and doggonit, they're going to vote. It may end up blowing up in their faces, but its their right to have it blow up in their faces.

Essentially, because of the ruling by the National Labor Relations Board last month to allow this vote to take place at all, NU scholarship players would now be considered employees of the university and have the right to unionize like other Northwestern workers. But they're not really "employees" based on the true definition because they are not getting paid. They're more like interns or graduate students, I guess.

So, as plainly as I can put it...say you work for a company (for free) and are not in a union. You and other workers like you can decide to organize (or unionize) in order to fight for things like better working conditions, health benefits, wages, a new coffee maker in the break room, etc.

Its not clear what NU players want to negotiate for, but I'm assuming compensation will come up in the first meeting. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald's email to the team was a pretty clear indicator that he's not in favor of anyone voting 'yes' tomorrow.
“Understand that by voting to have a union, you would be transferring your trust from those you know — me, your coaches and the administrators here — to what you don’t know — a third party who may or may not have the team’s best interests in mind,” Fitzgerald wrote to the team in an email.
Now of course, NU can't outright threaten or coerce its players in any way. But they can subtly nudge or influence. Just like any company who's employees are threatening to unionize, they're not thrilled by it. Essentially it takes power away from the company and gives it to the union. Sometimes that power trickles down to the employee. But the clear winner in any unionization effort is the union itself, not the company or the employee.

And the union in this case, is CAPA.

Former NU QB Kain Colter who has spearheaded the union movement…
“Looking out for people and making sure people are treated fairly has always been in our family morals,” Colter said in an interview with The Associated Press in Bradenton, Florida, where he is training for the NFL draft. “Obviously people come from different backgrounds and different situations, but everybody deserves to be treated fairly and they deserve basic rights and basic protections.”
I have no idea what any of that means.

I'm not really sure if NU players know what they're doing or not, but it seems the force and effect of this vote is murky at best. There's no road map for this sort of thing. NU players are flying blind. How they plan to go from forming a union to actually cashing a paycheck is not clear at all. Odds are, a freshman at Northwestern will be long graduated by the time this thing becomes a real thing if it becomes a real thing.

This is the part of my diatribe where I tell you that Northwestern is a private school, and this ruling (so far as I can tell) will only effect other private schools. And, this only applies to scholarship players at private schools. AND, this only applies to football players on scholarship at private schools. Public school players, especially in Ohio, are SOL.

Howeva! Athletic departments and union organizations across the country, even leaders in Washington will be watching anxiously to see what happens in Evanston tomorrow. But it would seem that the only thing everyone can unanimously agree on is that the NCAA seems ill-equipped to handle whatever comes next.
Union or no union tomorrow, college football appears to be heading towards a crossroads anyway. The sport's raging popularity and the revenue that it's generating is only accelerating. Schools and conferences are cashing in on television networks…the Longhorn Network, the Big Ten Network, the Pac-12 Network, the forthcoming SEC Network are all signs that college football is becoming a financial and political powerhouse. Ticket prices are skyrocketing. Merchandising/apparel contracts are enormous. And everyone is cashing in...except the players.

People have asked why the NLRB thinks athletes should be employees, and that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the process. The NLRB isn’t saying football players should be treated like employees. They’re saying that football players ARE employees. The NCAA has been hiding for years behind the theory that because these kids are “student-athletes” (a term the NCAA made up to avoid liability), the normal rules don’t apply.
Yesterday’s ruling was a pretty clear indication that those arguments are crap. You have an industry that makes huge amounts of money. You have a labor force that is highly skilled, drawn from a very narrow pool, and that spends more than a full time job worth of time on the job. The company’s income is largely based on the performance of the workers. They are under the complete (and damn-near dictatorial) control of their supervisors. And they are compensated to the tune of $50,000 to $75,000. And you ask people to believe they aren’t employees because you created a useful fiction that lets everyone sleep better at night? Shove it, sir. Shove it hard. When you see the facts on paper, it’s impossible to reach any other conclusion without adding some external consideration; “but think of what it will do to the game?”
Well, the game will be just fine. It's the other non-revenue generating sports at the university that will be, let's just say…slightly inconvenienced, in the process.

Personally, I think college football players should remain amateurs, thus they should not be paid. Its an unpopular opinion, but I just think it's a system that has worked relatively well for over 100 years. So why change it? I prefer college football to pro football for this exact reason. I believe that by paying football players, it would fundamentally change college sports in a dramatic way.

And by "paid", I mean the university/conference/NCAA assigning a dollar value a sport or player and cutting them a check once a semester or whatever. That's what I'm against. What I'm for is a restructuring of the scholarship system at high-profile colleges to allow a "cost of living" or "full cost of attendance" expense added into the scholarship package.

Teams have been condensing into 5 super-conferences…the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, Pac-12 and the ACC. I could see members of those five conferences becoming an upper-tier of schools that operate in a realm above the normal jurisdiction of the NCAA and NCAA rules. 

And I'm not just speculation'. Breaking today, this may become a real thing. I swear I started scribing this post before this was released.
On Thursday, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors announced its endorsement of a restructuring process that would give the five power leagues -- the Big Ten, the Pac-12, the SEC, the Big 12 and the ACC -- "more autonomy" from the other 22 leagues within the confines of NCAA legislation.

Under the new plan, the five power leagues would have the ability to hold autonomy on a number of matters impacting student-athletes. Those matters include: financial aid and the full cost of an athletic scholarship, insurance policies to protect future earnings, academic support for "at-risk" athletes," travel expenses for families, free tickets to athletic events and "expenses associated with practice and competition (such as parking)."

The endorsed plan would allow the five power leagues to change these current rules without the full support of the rest of the Division I members. 
The timing of this NCAA release and the impending NU player vote tomorrow is probably not a coincidence. Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc – A occurred, then B occurred. Therefore, A caused B.

With increases in department revenues (even though most lesser athletic departments still operate at or near a net loss) comes an increase in players' desire to done get paid. But the backup long-snapper at Ball State probably doesn't feel the same about being as fairly compensated as say, Jameis Winston. I'm sure high profile players probably think they deserve to get a chunk of the profits…which is a reasonable gripe if you're a Heisman-level quarterback on the football team.

But the problem is, what about the girl on the golf team who is also on scholarship…who's scholarship is paid for by revenue generating sports such as football. How much more does the QB deserve than she does? The fact that her scholarship is worth exactly the same amount to her as his scholarship is to him, is not by accident. Its a little thing called equality. Title IX saw to that. If they're going to have to pay the football team, they're also going to have to pay the women's golf team.

How many athletic departments can afford to do this? Maybe a couple dozen, at most? And even those would have to dramatically scale down the amount of non-revenue-generating sports as a result.

I'm getting way ahead of myself here by jumping to a few conclusions. But I'm just trying to paint a picture here. College football and the NCAA obviously won't change the way they do business overnight. Plus, my guess is that this unionization gets voted down anyway.

Perhaps the proposed revamping of how the NCAA treats the five "power conferences" will have the dramatic effect this unionization effort is intending to have. If anything, win or lose, this vote has begun the process of actually helping compensate the players who are directly responsible for the huge amounts of cash flowing into the coffers of athletic departments around the country. And to that, I say bravo Northwestern. Bravo.

No comments

Post a Comment