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Lowell Cohn: Labor board ruling favors private universities (w/video)

  • In this Sept. 21, 2013 file photo, Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter (2), wears APU for "All Players United" on wrist tape as he scores a touchdown during an NCAA college football game against Maine in Evanston, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

Maybe you read that a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled Northwestern University football players have the right to unionize. Maybe you brushed off what you read, didn't think about the implications.

No problem. I'm here to help. Here is one implication — one of many.

The ruling says football players at Northwestern are university employees with the rights of employees. This means Wildcats football players can collectively bargain with the university, can get coverage for sports-related injuries, can strike and, of course, they can get paid — share some of the enormous revenue they help generate for the school.

If this disgusts you, if you believe Northwestern players are pure amateurs, what world are you living in? College football is a multibillion-dollar commercial enterprise, a huge business.

American universities and the NCAA make out big time on this system with basically a slave-labor force. And the football players — the slaves — get zilch. And please don't say their scholarships are adequate compensation. No way.

Remember this, the colleges and NCAA sell the players' images for profit, and sell replicas of their jerseys, and sell memorabilia and create video games. But if the players sell their own autographs, they can be kicked off the team in disgrace because they violated some purist code that never was pure.

The NLRB ruling injects honesty into this hypocritical system.

So far, the ruling applies only to Northwestern. And, of course, Northwestern will appeal the ruling. Has to. But let's deal with reality as it stands right now.

The NLRB ruling applies to Northwestern because Northwestern is a private institution. The NLRB could not rule on a public institution like, say, Michigan. The NLRB adjudicates issues only on private companies. It's just how the NLRB is set up. Please don't worry your head about that.

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