If college football players ever are granted university employee status, Ron Strollo says there would be huge changes to athletic programs.
Not everyone would be happy with what would be gained and lost.
Shortly after a federal agency ruled on Wednesday that football players at Northwestern University have the right to form a union, mysteries began swirling over the future of college athletics.
Strollo, Youngstown State University’s athletic director since 2001, said his initial reaction is that the ruling and ensuing controversy “probably will raise more questions than answers.”
In Chicago, a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern players have the right to form a union because the scholarships they receive grant them employee status. The 24-page decision by Peter Sung Ohr, a NLRB regional director, said the athletes fall into a broad definition of employee.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Northwestern’s football players are the first in college sports to seek union representation. College Athletes Players Association is behind the effort.
CAPA is a union funded by Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA linebacker who has become an advocate for players’ rights. The Tribune reports CAPA is backed by the United Steelworkers, which is covering the group’s legal expenses.
CAPA is seeking financial coverage for former players with sports-related medical expenses, independent concussion experts to be placed on the sidelines during games and the creation of an educational trust fund to help former players graduate.
Those things would cause athletic departments’ budgets to skyrocket.
Ohr’s decision is expected to be appealed to the NLRB in Washington. Court cases stemming from the ruling could take many years to resolve.
If the courts ever rule that athletes are employees and entitled to benefits they do not now receive, Strollo speculated very few Division I schools would be able to handle the additional costs that would be created.
“If they are successful, it would drastically change what we know as interscholastic athletics,” Strollo said.
He explained that if athletes were allowed to unionize, the increased expenses most likely would mean fewer opportunities.
Some schools might no longer be able to afford football teams. And sports far less popular than football and men’s basketball could be phased out.
“Having to invest significant resources [to handle the change] would create stress on just about every campus,” Strollo said.
As college football and basketball have grown into billion-dollar industries, many have suggested that the players should receive compensation beyond their scholarships.
In June, a federal judge will hear the Ed O’Bannon antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA that seeks to strike down rules preventing college athletes from earning money from their names, likenesses and images.
If the NCAA loses, it will have to share the millions of dollars earned in broadcast fees and video game rights.
If the legal requirements change, Strollo said it’s possible some institutions in the new athletic universe may not be able to afford what they would be required to provide legally. That could lead to fewer student athletes as the amateurism model now employed would be shattered.
“[It would] probably turn everything into a minor league [system],” he said.
Strollo said he expects it will be quite a while before a final decision is rendered.
“As it progresses [through the legal system], I’m sure the NCAA will educate its members on the stance it’s taking,” Strollo said. “It will be interesting.”