John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The Unintended Consequences of a College Players Union

The recent ruling allowing Northwestern University athletes to unionize could, eventually, change the face of college athletics. The ruling currently applies to Northwestern only but could quickly expand to all private colleges. In the SEC, only Vanderbilt would be eligible to create a union. Public universities, like the University of Alabama, would not likely unionize in the near future.

An argument can be made that players deserve some form of compensation for income generated from the use of their name. Players could also argue, rightfully, that their per diem allowances should apply to the whole academic year rather than only during travel games. Universities could also, rightfully, argue that they are providing a six figure education and most athletes will benefit from that more because only about 1% go on to play professionally.

If the union ruling designates that schools are employers, that could open a strange can of worms in terms of tax liability by student athletes. It could potentially eradicate the idea of amateurism. It could also affect a school’s ability to field a wide range of programs, damaging Title IX compliance in the process, as players in other sports like baseball are considered employees despite the fact that most other sports do not offer full ride scholarships.

In the long term, the NCAA will be radically changed in the process. Schools like Alabama earn more from athletics than NHL and NBA teams already. Smaller schools cannot afford to compensate players the same as larger, more successful programs will be able to. They will not be able to attract and retain the talent to compete at the top level. Some programs will fold, some will move down in divisions, others will simply struggle along looking for a big payday in a road game.

In the past, we at Bama Hammer have written about the possibility of a super-conference. A union would help to speed up the eventual split as larger programs grow weary of supporting the rest of the NCAA through shared revenues. The NCAA has caused its own demise through years of social engineering — trying to create equality on the field where it simply does not exist. In the same way that larger, traditional programs will dominate a football playoff over the long term, more successful programs will dominate in terms of revenues even after player compensation becomes a factor.

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