Tuesday, January 28, 2014

North by Northwestern

This. This this this this this.

The football programs may not be worth the decaying frost-covered post-industrial arctic hellscapes* that its universities are dotted across but damn if the B1G isn’t leading the pack into the future of college athletics.**

* Yes it’s cold here, why do you ask?
** We are also good at basketball. And women’s volleyball.

It was reported today that the Northwestern Wildcats football team filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to first, be recognized as employees and second, be represented by a union. The organizers and their backers, including the College Athletes Players Association and United Steelworkers (who say they will have no stake in membership dues), seem fairly confident that they have a sufficient number of signatures to at least get the process moving forward.

I’ll leave guesses about where this specific case goes from here to the lawyers but the bigger point, the broader point is that this whole system is done.* Even if the NCAA fights and wins against Northwestern players, this issue will have been brought even further to the fore and once that happens – once people start to think about the INSANE amounts of money men's football and basketball players generate for their Indianapolis-based** overlords on top of the risk of injury and the prevalence of support systems explicitly designed to avoid providing the education so often claimed as compensation*** – there’s no way any right-thinking person could continue support the status quo.

* The Ed O’Bannon lawsuit should also be mentioned here but this filing is so much bigger. O’Bannon only goes after the use of a players’ likeness. This case cuts right to the heart of the NCAA's ideal of “student-athlete.”
** Another reason nap-city blows. I should probably visit at some point if I’m going to keep knocking it, huh?
*** Turns out these support systems are often more concerned with keeping athletes eligible than educating them. You don’t say?

Now the bigger question becomes what happens? To be honest, I have no idea. Maybe football and basketball players are allowed to unionize but a couple tweaks here and there manage to keep the current competitive ecosystem mostly in place. Maybe we go completely off the deep end and start providing the tennis players with $20,000 stipends because hell, they're athletes too right? Things could get hairy because really, even though critics will say athletic departments in the five power conferences* pull down over $5 billion in annual revenue, a much smaller number actually turn a profit. Hell, maybe this could even bounce back around and affect the status of graduate students (a recent point of contention at both Michigan and Minnesota).

*Sorry Big East American Athletic. Whatever, sucks to be U(Conn).

For now though those questions don’t matter so much. Things are about to get interesting and really the only way I feel right now is that it’s about damn time.

Ed. note: H/T to Brandon Bruhn for some sharp editing fixes.


  1. Hey dudes. Great article. There is one thing that has always confused me regarding the topic and I don't know how exactly the O'Bannon lawsuit addresses it, if it all. What is wrong with players being able to make money off of their own likenesses (autographs, jerseys, video games, etc) without the universities contributing anything further than the scholarships that are already provided? Every time Jim Delaney talks about it he makes it sound like the ship is going to sink, and he kind of has a point in regard to collegiate sports not being a minor league, but if the players can just make money off of their own likenesses without further fiscal contribution from the schools I do not see what the big deal is.

  2. The only reason athletic departments don't turn profits is because they unnecessarily spend so much. The bulk of athletic budgets are coaches' salaries and football facilities. I see paying the players less as putting colleges into debt and more as moving money away from coaches and facilities to players.


Keep it civil.