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Editorial: Take the sports out of college

Last Wednesday, in a surprise decision, a regional division of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern University football players seeking to unionize were employees of the university. While Northwestern will certainly appeal the decision, the implications, if the decision holds, are quite substantial. With potentially billions of dollars at stake nationwide, the NCAA will fight any unionizing decision fiercely. In our view, the monetary stake — along with the absence of any discussion of academics — illustrates just how far major college sports have deviated from their ostensible purpose of educating student-athletes. Rather than raise student-athletes to the level of employees, perhaps college sports should be decoupled from the university, with major sports leagues treating college athletes as the professionals they are.

It is worth noting that the Northwestern players are not asking for compensation. Rather, they argue that unionization could protect student-athlete health and prompt greater safety regulations. Under the current state of affairs, though, student-athletes would certainly be justified in seeking compensation. Student-athletes at major programs generate significant revenue for their schools through licensing agreements and ticket sales, but they never see a penny of this revenue.

While athletes are purportedly full-time students with scholarships that supposedly compensate for lost revenue, some major programs are notorious for constructing fake classes for athletes, as was recently alleged at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Student-athletes who aren’t receiving an honest college degree aren’t accruing many educational benefits. While most college athletes may dream of lucrative professional careers, only a small percentage will be able to make it come true. Meanwhile, many will have sacrificed years that could have been focused on college education, and many may have incurred injuries with effects that will persist long after their college careers are finished.

The vast sums of money at stake in this legal battle demonstrate how far college sports have strayed from their intent. A temporary solution should allow students to unionize to protect their own health and safety, but a more meaningful long-term result would be to separate major football and basketball programs from the universities to which they are already only tenuously connected. Currently, these programs are shielded from tax liability, but there is very little social benefit to the greater public, and it seems evident that these teams should be operated on a for-profit basis. Major League Baseball already operates a minor league that compensates its athletes. This model could be extended to basketball and football, perhaps with scholarships that could allow athletes to attend school after they have finished their often short professional careers.

The NLRB ruling has laid bare the extent of the corporatization of the NCAA as well as its complete disregard for student-athlete academic performance and general welfare. The NCAA should move toward separating its college basketball and football programs from universities that shield the teams from paying taxes, compensating their players and protecting players’ health.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Matt Brundage ’15 and Rachel Occhiogrosso ’14, and its members, Hannah Loewentheil ’14 and Thomas Nath ’16. Send comments to


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