Dienhart: 'I'm all for this' players union

The move to unionized college athletes continues to gain momentum.

A report from ESPN says that Northwestern football players are beginning the process of being recognized as employees by reaching out for help from the National College Players Association, which filed a petition in Chicago on behalf of football players at Northwestern by submitting a form at the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board.

[ MORE: Northwestern AD Jim Phillips releases statement ]

At the center of the movement is Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, whose eligibility has expired. In fact, it was Colter who reached out to a union organizer to help get Wildcats players involved.

“The action we’re taking isn’t because of any mistreatment by Northwestern,” Colter said in the story. “We love Northwestern. The school is just playing by the rules of their governing body, the NCAA. We’re interested in trying to help all players — at USC, Stanford, Oklahoma State, everywhere. It’s about protecting them and future generations to come.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

“Right now the NCAA is like a dictatorship. No one represents us in negotiations. The only way things are going to change is if players have a union.”

I am all for this. The student-athlete needs a voice in the wilderness of collegiate athletics. College sports generates millions of dollars. And no sport generates more than football. The athletes are the ones who play the games and have the most on the line. Why shouldn’t their concerns be heard in a formal and organized fashion that a union would provide?

A union offers protection to its members. It offers a unified voice of a membership that can represent its constituency at the highest level of its industry. In this instance, a college athlete union can make sure its members are part of the process of running the industry that is fueled by their blood, sweat and sacrifice.

How can anyone argue against that notion?

This is just another issue in an ever-changing college landscape that is seeing rumblings of a movement to pay some players with some sort of stipend. There also is talk about a possible breakaway from the NCAA by schools that play in major conferences.

No doubt, the next few years could see some big changes in collegiate athletics, an arena that already has seen rampant conference realignment as school and leagues position themselves for the future. What that future will look like is anyone’s guess. But, it could include a players union.

Here’s a shot of Colter:

And the NCAA’s response to all of this?

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Your Opinion?
Show Comments (14 Comments)
J.R. Fischer on 1/28/2014 @ 1:52pm EDT Said:

What the hell happened to getting a college education while getting to continue playing a game? Input on injuries and the like…OK. But study after study has proven the lifetime value of a college education. Let’s start figuring that into all of this. It is time to quit treating these student-athletes like they are something super-special because they can carry a football, or “pancake” an opponent. They are treated like something above and beyond students from middle-school on. As a result, we get spoiled individuals who are self-absorbed. Give them their due on Saturday afternoon … let them play a game … get an education … and graduate better off than many who cannot afford a college education.

Grant on 1/28/2014 @ 2:39pm EDT Said:

This is a terrible idea, and will not work. When people think of the student athlete they need to think accross all sports, mens and womens. That includes; track, gymnastics, soccer, tennis, rifle, etc.. People that are thinking this will work think that it will only involve football and mens basketball, which it can’t do. All NCAA student athletes on scholarship are being paid their fair share, they are getting a free education, free living, not to mention tutors, and when they are done with school, they have people helping them get jobs if they don’t play sports professionally. To even compare college athletics to the NBA or NFL is a joke. They are professionals, and college is not. What will happen if you turn an athlete into an employee. No more scholarships? Taxes? Do you want to see the death of college sports, if so then this is a great idea. Remember most schools lose money on the athletics budget, how are they going to be able to pay players on top of everything else, and who is paying the union dues, all the college players? This is the worse idea I have ever heard of, end of story.

tim munger on 1/28/2014 @ 3:02pm EDT Said:

A union for college students? I don’t agree with the idea at all. These athletes play for the love of the game, for their school, and to prepare for a possible professional athletics career. There will be plenty of time for them to make their money in the pros. College sports doesn’t need a trade union.

Bill Christensen on 1/28/2014 @ 3:50pm EDT Said:

NCAA is a dictatorship. One that marches to the beat of the almighty dollar when it comes to Division 1 football(FBS) and basketball. Once an 18 year old kid makes a commitment(ie letter of intent) he is a slave to that institution. The coaches can get up and go, but kids loose a year of eligibility. Are these bastions of America afraid of competition? If a kid can get a better deal why shouldn’t (s)he be able to move on without penalties. The University may make money off of a kid’s name on jerseys etc, with nothing for the kid. Student athlete is complete joke except at lower divisions of NCAA.

A union should fight to allow freedom of movement(why should we expect these 18 year olds to always make the right decision, most 18 year olds make a mistake or 2 in judgment) and prevent use of name without compensation. If the NCAA did this then I would say there is no need for a union.

Hans67 on 1/28/2014 @ 4:04pm EDT Said:

One issue here is the relative balance between the education offered by the university to student-athletes as compared to the net revenue realized from the service provided by the athletes. What percentage of the university’s student-athletes earn a degree as compared to how much revenue is generated directly and indirectly by the athletes – ticket sales, TV revenue, wearing apparel, concessions, parking, booster club memberships, game day restaurant and hotel revenue?

Jeff Schnipkoweit on 1/28/2014 @ 4:08pm EDT Said:

Money has ruined college athletics period! College athletes that want to be paid need to move on to the Pros. Maybe we should go the route of MLB with farm clubs, letting kids be drafted right out of high school. Then maybe we can get back to TRUE student athletes.

gunnyze7 on 1/28/2014 @ 4:53pm EDT Said:

The unions need to stay out of college athletics, if they want to be in a union then quit school and get a job in a factory, This is a bad idea and will KILL college football.

julio sanchez on 1/28/2014 @ 6:31pm EDT Said:

go play in Canada and get paid if you don’t want to play college ball.

Doug on 1/28/2014 @ 7:04pm EDT Said:

yeah the poor athletes, getting a free ride just isn’t enough.

DD on 1/28/2014 @ 8:42pm EDT Said:

OK as a parent of a former buckeye student athlete and dealing with unions on my job I disagree with Mike Wilbon (ESPNS PTI)!!!! Like a previous poster said lets not forget these KIDS are STUDENT athletes not STAR athletes!!! I’m glad this household doesn’t have a huge student loan bill and that’s fine!!! I promise you when these KIDS hit the real world they will want to go back to the days of being a STUDENT watching their ESPN highlights and not dealing with a job they HATE and a supervisor who is HORRIBLE………enjoy college because I promise LIFE IS WAITING……………………..

DD on 1/28/2014 @ 8:47pm EDT Said:

Hey Tom we need to meet at Sweetie Pies (since you based in St. Louis) for some Soul Food. I miss da Lou (I moved when I joined military). I miss the days of seeing Jackie Joyner (Kersee) in the halls of Lincoln HS harassing me to play sports!!!! hahahaha

B1Gfan MI on 1/29/2014 @ 9:52am EDT Said:

What is going on at Northwestern? I assume the value of a college degree at one of the nation’s best institutions isn’t enough these day’s. Last I knew nobody is forcing these egomaniacs to sign LOI’s or to follow the coaches expectation’s for participation on the field. Where are the priority’s? Perhaps Colter and others should consider starting their own “Developmental League” after they don’t make the cut in the NFL. Just another example of why it’s so important to evaluate a recruits character. Network television money is financing the grants in aid in most college athletic programs across the country and without rules in place, the potential for violations is extreme. Labor Union for “student athletes” ? How about a trip to the real world for these self-absorbed, ingrates!

Evelyn Hawthorne on 1/29/2014 @ 2:51pm EDT Said:

A union may not be the correct approach, but the issues they’re raising are valid. Student-athletes MUST be a part of every decision-making activity the NCAA undertakes that concern their well-being, not as an after-thought. Mr. Colter is to be applauded for turning up the volume from the students’ perspective on this important matter.

Mr. Colter raised health issues as a big concern. The NCAA should consider the development of a catastrophic health pool upon which a current or former student athlete could draw in the event of health issues that arise out of injuries incurred on the field of play or in practices related to that student athlete’s sport. A similar pool could be made available for disabilities that arise in the future. The NCAA should do this with all due diligence. If the NCAA did this, it would not only be the right thing to do, but it might also quiet union activities.

Unions do not arise in workplaces where good management is in place.

Aurora Farqueson on 1/30/2014 @ 2:17pm EDT Said:

For those student-athletes who believe they are not being compensated sufficiently with a scholarship, free tuition, room, board, books, swag, etc. I only ask one question — how many of you would be able to meet the admission requirements to attend a Big 10 school (or a ND,Duke, etc.) ? Take a hard look in the mirror and be honest. Your athletic ability has provided you with the opportunty (and I stress the word “opportunity” here) to attend and obtain a degree from some of the most prestigious institutions in the world which will open doors for you economically in the future job market. Many are losing sight of the fact that there is a value and benefit being received for just being admitted to world-class institutions, where that opportunity would otherwise be precluded. To paraphrase a well-known commercial :
Tuition — $200,000
Free room,board, books swag, etc.– $50,000
Being admitted to a world-class university where you otherwise wouldn’t be admitted — PRICELESS.