Should collegiate athletes be classified as employees?

Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter leads the effort to unionize college football players.


By Charles Glover, Jr.

The Northwestern University football team took the initial steps to be recognized as a union on Tuesday January, 28 2014. That date may mark the end on the current structure of amateur athletics as we know it. The president of the National College Players Association (NCPA), Ramogi Huma, filed a petition on behalf of the Northwestern football players at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

NCPA President Ramogi Huma helps organize efforts to provide union protection for college players.

NCPA President Ramogi Huma helps to organize efforts to provide union protection for college players.

Numerous Northwestern players signed union cards that Huma also submitted to the NLRB on a day in which there was a press conference held to announce their intentions to have these college players recognized as employees. Huma is currently seeking to represent Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) players and Division 1A college basketball players as be believes them to be “the strongest argument to be made” for players as employees at this time. The tenet the NCPA believes that qualifies players to be classified as employees is the 40 hours or more they must dedicate to their sport in order to receive their benefits (scholarship, room, and board).

Kain Colter, starting quarterback for Northwestern, has been front and center in this movement and was part of the press conference. Colter acknowledged that “many of us would probably have graduated by the time” this issue reached a resolution. Huma and Colter both mentioned that they are determined to endure the lengthy process it will likely take to reach their goal but they both stated the cause was well worth it. Colter was emphatic in supporting the notion stating, “to remain while players are denied justice would be complicit in inflicting injustice on future generations of collegiate athletes.”

Colter went on to explain that the three main goals they hope to achieve by unionizing. First, receiving medical protection for players while playing and in the future if they can prove the injury is a direct result of that sport. Second, academic trust funds for athletes as an incentive to improve the 50 percent graduation rate among those in FBS and Division 1A basketball. Third, an increase in the stipend players receive to defray additional costs. As Colter surmised, “players miss class regularly for sports but if a player with a 4.0 GPA misses games for academics, he’d lose his scholarship.”

NCAA Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy believes the NCAA has been fair in their compensation for student-athletes.

NCAA Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy believes the NCAA has been fair in their compensation for student-athletes.

In a statement released by NCAA Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy, the NCAA denied all of the claims made by the NCPA. Remy declared, “Student-athletes are not employees…their participation is completely voluntary.” Remy also maintained extreme confidence that any legal action would rule in the NCAA’s favor. The NCAA has been consistent in asserting that the benefits and educational possibilities players receive are adequate compensation for the athletic opportunities student-athletes experience.

While there are many people who do not believe the package college players receive is enough, there is a groundswell of support to extend the benefits these players receive as the NCAA continues to receive billions of dollars in revenue. The filing to the NLRB by Huma is the first step in a likely lengthy legal process. As ESPN business analyst Andrew Brandt mentioned on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, “The NCAA has legal precedent on its side and…it will take several years to conclude this matter.”

Regardless of the outcome of this matter, the discussion about the amateur status of collegiate players will rage on. This bold move by the NCPA may even inspire professional boxers, who lack a union as well, to recognize the importance of protecting athletes that help generate the billions of dollars in sports revenue yearly.––

Charles Glover, Jr. is a sports aficionado and a management training consultant. Follow me @OpenWindowMES on