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Witnesses oppose labor ruling on college athletes

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Baylor University President Ken Starr voiced strong opposition Thursday to a regional National Labor Relations Board ruling that scholarship football players at Northwestern University are technically school employees and thus entitled to collective bargaining rights.

Starr, a former federal judge and prosecutor, said it would be very disruptive if college athletes were allowed to unionize.

Starr, who as an independent prosecutor led a five-year investigation of President Bill Clinton in the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky scandals in the 1990s, testified about the NLRB ruling at a hearing by the House Education and Workforce Committee.

The committee's chairman, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., said allowing college athletes to unionize would set a "dangerous precedent for colleges and universities nationwide."

He said there were problems in college athletics that need to be addressed, including making sure that athletes have good medical coverage, but that allowing them to unionize was the wrong way to go.

The panel's top Democrat, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., voiced support for Northwestern athletes, calling it "a rational decision by these young people. There was no other outlet."

"The nostalgic days where student-athletes really were 'students' first ... are pretty much over for high-level athletic programs," Miller said.

The congressional hearing came in response to the landmark ruling by the Chicago-region director of the NLRB on the status of Northwestern college athletes. Northwestern, located in Evanston, Ill., has appealed the ruling.

If upheld, the unionization movement could easily spread to other campuses and change the landscape of amateur athletics in the U.S.

Northwestern players cast ballots April 25 on whether to unionize. But the labor agency sealed the ballot boxes until the school's appeal plays out.

The panel heard testimony on the multimillion-dollar annual salaries of some major college football coaches.

No one from Northwestern or from the would-be players' union appeared before the panel.

However, Kain Colter, the former Northwestern quarterback who is a leader in the unionization effort, issued a statement praising Miller and other committee members "who stood up for college athletes' rights and exposed unjust NCAA rules. ... They are part of a legacy that has fought to better civil rights for all Americans." Ramogi Huma, president of the fledgling College Athletes Players Association, asserted in the same statement, "We are on the right side of history."

Patrick Eilers, a former safety in the National Football League for the Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins, and Chicago Bears, told the panel "the crux of the problem is that student-athletes should be students, first and foremost, as the description suggests. I'm concerned that calling student-athletes 'employees' will make the system more of a business than it already is," he said.

Eilers was a member of the 1988 Notre Dame national championship team.

"I was a student-athlete at Notre Dame. Period. I was not an employee of the university, nor did I want to be one," Eilers said. But when he later played for NFL teams, "I was an employee and I wanted to be."

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  • Student/employee
    Does this mean they'll get a W2 (if employee)on the value of the scholarship and be require to pay taxes? I sure hope so.
  • Paying Student Athletes will happen
    Indentured servants may be a bit strong...but no rational person who observes this can say that athletes are at the biggest institutions to get an education...they have to fit that in between practice, weights, team meetings, etc. You would have to be insane to think most institutions and coaches give a crap about whether the athlete graduates or not...some do, but most don't, the term student athlete is completely phony...when the athletic director at Ohio State gets an $18,000 bonus because one of the kids on the wrestling team wins a championship in his weight class, that tells you how far this thing is skewed...the NCAA persecutes Johnny Manziel for signing some autographs and maybe making money on it, protesting all the while that they are in this to protect the student athlete, and there is Manziel's jersey on the NCAA website for sale...it isn't the NCAA that makes that jersey worth something...it is the kid inside the jersey and his teammates...and as for the 'they can walk away at any time", what dream world are you living in Rocky...some kid from Compton CA, or the projects in Chicago is going to walk away, with his whole family counting on him to raise them up out of poverty. You think that kid can start "paying his own way" like everyone else. Paying the athletes is coming for the biggest schools, including the Big 10, and Mark Emmert has pretty much already said so. Last, if you think the biggest players in college sports aren't reminiscent of antebellum south plantations, I suggest you read Water Byers' book, "Unsportsmanlike Conduct, Exploiting College Athletes"...he was the executive director of the NCAA from 1951-1987...his book boils it all down for you...your idea of a student athlete is a myth Sly...the money is coming for them, or the courts will make it happen at some point...unionizing might not be the optimum method of getting the athletes a reasonable share of the pie, but it is absolutely going to happen, and it should.
  • Over The Top
    Indentured servant? Are you being serious? Comparing a college athlete to what basically equates to a slave is beyond over the top! What does a college athlete get in return for playing sports? Free tuition, free housing, free food, free clothing, etc. But here is the kicker.... they can walk away from it all at any point in time and start paying their own way like the other 99% of the people that attend that institution. Pretty sure an indentured servant does not have the freedom to walk away. Also, a large contingent of those athletes would not otherwise have the financial means to get a college education if it were not for the NCAA. Are they making a ton of money? Absolutely. But they are also providing infrastructure that moves kids forward in life. Like anything, I think there are improvements that can be made, but I sincerely hope that paying student athletes is completely off the table.
  • They are not employees
    College athletes (at least those in the money making sports of men's college basketball and football) are more like indentured servants. They get housing, three meals a day and "tuition" paid for during a defined period of time in return for their labor. And much like indentured servitude of the past, obscene profits are being made off their labors. The universities are allowed to conspire and collude (via the NCAA) in order keep the costs of their labor low. We expereienced the exact same thing during the end of the 19th century and it was only the rise of unions that eventually forced higher wages and living standards. Essentially, history is repeating itself. I hope the atheletes are successful in their efforts and larger universities share a little of the pie...

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