The ruling from the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago stating that the football players at Northwestern University have the right to form a union is just the start in what could be a big change for college sports and everyone involved. It will take time, and there are sure to be appeals on both sides and future lawsuits before the dust settles.
When it is all said and done, all of NCAA Sports could be reformed allowing more freedom for the student athletes. The first thing that could come from allowing players to unionize is players staying in school longer and finishing their education. Quite a few players will play in college for two, maybe three years before they make the jump to the professional leagues. Instead of being lured by large professional contracts after playing for no pay in school, players may be more willing to stay with their college team than to jump into the professional leagues, where it is not guaranteed that they will even be able to make it.
Staying on the team for four years could even make them better players, increasing their chances to go higher in the professional drafts and become better players in the professional leagues. Still, this is a long way away. The groundwork is being laid though, and it could open the doors for much more.
What Northwestern University has started, being given the right to form a union, is just scratching the surface. For a long time, student athletes have not been able to profit off of their talent while in school. On the other hand, the NCAA and member schools have been profiting off of the student athletes. This ruling could open the doors for much more than what the Northwestern athletes were asking for.
The ruling came from the Northwestern athletes asking for better medical coverage and concussion testing, full four-year scholarships and the possibility of being paid. This is where things have the potential to really change for the student athletes. In the professional leagues, athletes earn money, sometimes more money than their team salary, from endorsements. By changing the definition of a student athlete to an employee, it could open the door to athletes seeking endorsement contracts with local and national businesses.
By having student athletes recognized as employees, it could potentially allow for changes in other areas. For years, photographers have been restricted to media use only when it came to college athlete photography, trading card companies may be able to introduce college sets for teams, conferences, and more.
And the fans could really benefit. The possibility of star players wanting to stay in school for a full four years, helping to keep their team the best it can be instead of leaving for the dreams of making it big in the professional leagues.
It is not guaranteed that any of this will happen or if it does, it will take a long, long time for everything to be sorted out. The start in the discussion that has just now begun thanks to Northwestern University’s right to form a union is going to be heated and will hopefully benefit all of college athletics in the long run.
Commentary by Carl Auer