Mercury News editorial: NCAA must stop the madness of exploiting college athletes

April 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

Nov. 16, 2013: Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter during an NCAA college football game against Michigan in Evanston, Ill. Colter has become the face of a

For the NCAA, March Madness is its moneymaking machine. The madness of exploiting college athletes is its year-around endeavor.

Unionizing college athletes is madness too, for all sorts of reasons. But the NCAA could have nipped the idea in the bud by taking some basic, obvious steps to protect athletes’ health and welfare. It is whining about the National Labor Relations Board decision to allow players to form unions, but it has only itself to blame.

Meanwhile, Congress is considering a law to force the NCAA to treat students fairly.

Neither a union nor a federal law should be needed. If the NCAA adopted just a few reasonable and humane rules, we suspect both would go away.

The athletes’ requests so far are more than reasonable, mainly involving safety issues and the terms of scholarships. Some schools already have some of them as policies. The NCAA should have addressed them long ago and could voluntarily now.

But no. At the same time the college athletics governing body was raking in more than $1 billion from the basketball tournament, its lawyers in effect were trying to explain to the NLRB why universities shouldn’t have to pay medical costs or continue scholarships for athletes injured at practice or games.

The NLRB’s Peter Sung Ohr took in this hypocrisy and issued a 24-page ruling that, in effect, college athletes were university employees and should be free to unionize.

Besides seeking medical coverage for sports injuries, athletes want the right to have an independent doctor on the sidelines to evaluate whether they have suffered a concussion during a game, rather than having a coach or team trainer make the call in the heat of battle.

They want scholarships to be guaranteed for four years, as they were before the 1980s. Now scholarships are renewed every year at the discretion of coaches, who can use this as leverage to get athletes to devote unreasonable amounts of time to a program — even forcing them to switch to easier majors.

The NLRB case stems from Northwestern University quarterback Kain Colter’s disillusionment over this pattern. To keep his scholarship, he was forced to drop his plans to go to medical school. His experience became a rallying point.

Athletes also want the right to transfer to another school without being forced to sit out a year, a right the NCAA already gives to coaches.

These points are the basis of a bill before Congress authored by California Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the NCAA says it’ll take the case to the Supreme Court if need be.

None of this would be necessary if the NCAA and the colleges and universities it represents just focused on players’ legitimate needs instead of playing their own cynical games.



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