My teenage nephew has a great brain for math, a God-given gift that required a lot of time and effort to make something of it.
He has been rewarded by a few universities with scholarship offers to study engineering on their campuses.
One school’s stipulation is that he maintain a C+ grade-point average to renew the scholarship annually.
There is nothing in the fine print that states he must give away the rights to his image and likeness to the university or a governing body, an agreement college athletes make to receive scholarships.
He will not have to accept “friend” requests on Facebook from professors, unlike Northwestern football players who must accept such requests from their bosses — I mean coaches. He will not have to juggle his studies with a 40- to 50-hour work week as Northwestern players do.
When National Labor Relations Board regional director Peter Ohr ruled Wednesday that Northwestern scholarship football players are employees with rights to form a union, he cited that work load in his decision.
College athletes live in a different world from the general student population on campuses. We are used to seeing the glamorous side on television and on campuses where athletes have access to tutors, early registration for classes and acceptable excuses to miss classes when their teams are on the road.
We see and hear less of the unattractive side: They are athletes first, students second, unless they are extraordinarily gifted in both pursuits to strike a balance between them, and there are always a few such talents.
Often, academic pursuits cannot interfere with the demands of athletic schedules.
That this paradigm exists at institutions of higher learning is absurd.
“People in other countries survey our college sports landscape and say, ‘Huh? … Why?’” longtime sports columnist David Jones of The Harrisburg Patriot-News wrote after the NLRB ruling. “Why would high schools and especially universities take part in promoting and running athletic teams on the side as if they were businesses? How does that fit into any academic mission?”
It is entrenched in our culture and now threatened by the uprising of current and former football and men’s basketball players who correctly see the model is lopsided, especially when it comes to players’ monetary value and absence of benefits such as workers’ compensation for injuries sustained while playing.
For the NCAA, the more immediate pressing matter is not the NLRB ruling but a class-action antitrust lawsuit over the use of athletes’ names, images and likenesses. The Northwestern case as well as the suit threaten the association’s amateurism ideals.
If athletes ultimately win in the courts, and the NLRB ruling could end up there, the financial ramifications for other sports such as track and field and swimming could be devastating. Some colleges fund such programs with revenue from football and basketball. A new distribution model could jeopardize their existence and put colleges on rough ground with women’s equality issues.
Football is a costly sport that many schools lose money on. Those colleges would have to weigh whether it’s worth the price. In America, where football is king and colleges are the unofficial minor leagues for the NFL, that might sound unsettling.
But football and men’s basketball players shouldn’t carry that burden for athletic departments and the NCAA. Conference commissioners and NCAA administrators who collectively have marketed their teams brilliantly to the tune of billions must find another way to make it work.