Labor turmoil in college athletics
Bob was a dirt-poor kid from Pensacola, Fla., when he won a scholarship for football at a Division I school in Mississippi. He had grown up in the kind of poverty most of us can hardly imagine, and the scholarship was a godsend — the only way he could imagine going to college.
There was only one hitch: He had absolutely no money, beyond the room and board provided by the university, and he had no legal way of getting it. He couldn't buy a hamburger or afford to go to a movie or to get his bad teeth fixed. The time he spent on the football field and keeping up his grades and the restrictions imposed by the NCAA precluded him from working.
While others around him were enjoying at least some semblance of college social life, the small amount of free time afforded him was spent in his dorm room. He increasingly believed he was in prison. He saw only one way out. He quit the team and dropped out of school. He found a job and enrolled in a much cheaper community college program. He was frugal, living in a tiny room and washing dishes at an all-night restaurant for his food.
It took Bob three years and working two jobs to complete a two-year course at the community college. But he saved enough money to enroll at a large university in his home state and complete his education in journalism with honors. He had a substantial career and ultimately made it here as a correspondent for a major newspaper.
This story, as sad or inspirational as it may seem, depending on one's point of view, goes to the heart of the increasing turmoil over whether college athletes should be compensated beyond the cost of their education for their contribution to the millions of dollars in revenues their hard work produces for their universities. A ruling from a regional National Labor Relations Board member that football players at prestigious Northwestern University are actually employees of the institution and can legally unionize has opened the door to a full-blown debate and more.
As the father of three boys who received “full ride” football scholarships at Division I schools, I sometimes wonder who is being exploited — the universities or the athletes, especially when basketball players frequently parlay a semester and a half into a fortune in the NBA.
The NCAA's attitude about all this is that “student athletes” are substantially rewarded for their efforts by the payment of tuition and room and board, particularly now when college costs rise every year. That's a legitimate argument, but is it a moral one?
And what about the delayed expenses later in life because of injuries sustained on the playing field? Should a fund be established to compensate for these injuries?
On the other hand, athletes who stay the education course and graduate do so without the huge loans that saddle so many of today's college graduates. Also, paying college athletes beyond their classroom benefits changes the system radically, officially professionalizing them. The spillover into other areas of the university, particularly in the collective bargaining process, could be economically disastrous.
These questions and a thousand more are looming in the highly charged atmosphere of big-time college athletics. I would like to ask Bob about this, but sadly he passed away at a far too young age a number of years ago.
Dan Thomasson is a columnist for McClatchy-Tribune and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Rossi: Penguins’ best bet is on Martin
- Burnett’s stellar start paves way for Pirates’ victory over Diamondbacks
- From injuries to front office, Penguins’ season didn’t lack drama
- Spirit Airlines lifts fortunes of Arnold Palmer Regional Airport
- Penguins president: General manager, coach won’t be fired
- Young defensemen make case for future with Penguins
- High risk, reward with 1st-round quarterbacks in NFL Draft
- Biertempfel: Observations from a day at the ballpark
- Pirates’ Cole reinforces status as emerging ace
- Pitt AD Barnes has enjoyed varied career in college sports
- Elites, media & character