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February 12th, 2014

Unionizing College Sports is Not a Good Idea



Harry C. Alford

There is a movement to unionize college sports. The unionizing would result in college athletes being paid cash for their participation. The United Steelworkers Union for some strange reason is the union financing this effort (legal fees, publicity, consultants, etc.). They are proud to win over their first institution – Northwestern University. This is an extreme approach. There is an assumption that athletes receive nothing for their athletic efforts. The fact is they do by way of valuable scholarships. These scholarships will lead them to a valuable education. Booker T. Washington once stated, "You cannot be free without an education". That is so true, even more so today.

I know quite a bit about athletic scholarships. I received one to the great University of Wisconsin for my football skills as an inside linebacker. My wife, Kay, and I guided our two sons as they received scholarship offers from dozens of schools for their excellence in Lacrosse (goalie and midfield/face off). Our twins settled on the University of Maryland. It is so reassuring that if you pass your curriculum you will become a college graduate. The National College Athletic Association (NCAA) sets the standards for athletic scholarships. Athletes are given an extra year of education if needed for graduation. There is an injury clause in the scholarship which is assurance if you are seriously injured and cannot play any longer – the scholarship remains in force.

Besides tuition a recipient has room and board, books, tutoring, medical insurance and free meals during season. Some conferences offer free meals whenever school is in session. Our boys both had surgery during their four years in college and it was fully paid for per the terms of their scholarships. You see, the advantages of an athletic scholarship have significant value. It’s great getting your college degree without you or your parents burdened with financing it. A degree and debt free! Most Black athletes would not get a college education if it weren’t for the scholarships. That was certainly my case.

The two most popular sports are football and basketball. The revenue produced from stadium gates and radio/television coverage is very significant. So significant that the profits are used to fund other sports, facilities upkeep, etc. Plus that, winning teams excite alumni and that encourages them to support their alma mater through donations – more money for the institution. I am a lifetime member of the University Wisconsin and have contributed to my alma mater on other special occasions. It’s like family to me and millions of other alumni.

College coaches often get flack because of their high salaries. But they certainly aren’t over paid. The market dictates their salaries. Pay them too little and they will be recruited by a rival school or professional sports. They make all the good things about sports happen. If they don’t they are not tolerated and will be summarily fired. Schools with great athletic traditions are economically sound. It is a system that helps make America great. Truly college sports are the foundation of our culture.

Now, what if our colleges were to unionize and start paying our students cash instead of the benefits above. First of all, if they did the students would be taxed by the federal government, state and local governments plus social security. They would also be hit with union dues deducted from each pay check. Also, they would be under Obamacare and that could really hurt economically. Being employees of the schools would also subject them to some amount of tuition and the housing and other benefits would wither away or become additional income per the IRS. They wouldn’t be playing for the benefit of the school. Players with poor seasons or those who lack playing time would be fired. It would become strictly business just like professional sports. Total revenue schools now make from football and basketball will drop dramatically for most schools. Team spirit and the motivation of alumni would fade away. A system that has evolved over the last 120 years would be no more and that would have terrible consequences for our nation. We would suffer.

This scheme to turn our athletes into collective bargaining chips is just another desperate attempt by the unions to create a new hustle for revenue. Their pension funds are under-funded and their membership is dropping year by year causing their coffers to become "slim pickings". The idea is just unrealistic and not viable at all. Our young men and women who participate as college athletes are precious to our society. They will gain leadership skills and a rock strong work ethic that will contribute to our future and bring dividends to the strength of our great nation – America the beautiful.

Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, President and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.


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