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The NLRB & college sports: Day of judgment

| Thursday, March 27, 2014, 8:55 p.m.

The cartel that is college athletics has been whistling past its day of judgment for decades. It makes billions of dollars off the backs of student athletes — primarily those playing football and basketball in nothing less than the minor leagues of the NFL and NBA — in return for academic scholarships that are no piddling amounts but whose value pales by comparison.

Adding insult to exploitation, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) then imposes draconian outside earnings rules on student athletes, deepening and widening exploitation's gulch.

Now comes the National Labor Relations Board and the United Steelworkers, the latter footing the bill for a union organizing effort by football players at Northwestern University through the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA). An NLRB regional director ruled Wednesday that scholarship players indeed are “employees” and, thus, legally able to unionize.

Collectively bargaining for “wages” is not CAPA's goal. Rather it says it seeks guaranteed short- and long-term coverage for injuries, injury-reduction efforts and pursuit of commercial sponsorships. These are hardly unreasonable requests given the profits Division I schools reap from these players.

College athletic unions are far from a done deal. Appeals will wend their way through the legal system for years. But even if CAPA prevails, the ruling will apply only to private schools.

Still, the writing is on the campus walls. And the NCAA and its member schools would be stupid to not make — outside of unionization — such modest accommodations to those responsible for so much of their wealth.

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