Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Look For The Union Label

TigerBlog tries not to repeat himself if he can avoid it.

On the other hand, there has to be some sort of statute of limitations on telling the same story again.

For instance, when TigerBlog decided to talk about the movement out of Northwestern to attempt to unionize college athletes, his first reactions were 1) Miss TigerBlog's project today and 2) his own experiences in studying labor relations in college.

He told the story of MTB's project two weeks ago. He told the story about the labor history class in 2010.

He doesn't really want to repeat something from two weeks ago, obviously. And what about more than three years ago? Is that back on the table?

Anyway MTB's project is about whether or not college athletes should be paid. The assignment was to choose a topic that is contemporary and somewhat controversial, pick a side and make an argument in a Power Point and 15-minute speech. MTB's 15 minutes of fame, or at least of making her case, are today.

As for the labor history reference, that goes back to Walter Licht's class at Penn way back when. Unlike the story about MTB's project, the one from Dr. Licht's class is much older, and TB has only told it once, a long time ago.

So would anyone have remembered it if he told it again? Unlikely. Still he doesn't like to do that.

And if he runs out of actual life experiences to share? He can either go have some more of them, or make some up. By then he'll be so old he won't know what he's saying anyway.

By the way, have you ever been in a situation where you've told a story about something that happened to you so long ago so many times that you can't remember if the way you tell the story is really the way it happened or just how you remember it from telling the story so many times? That's a very philosophical question, and TB isn't in the mood for depth on multiple subjects today.

Anyway, TB studied a lot of labor history in college, including a class taught by Dr. Licht in which each student in the small seminar had to choose a book and a week of the semester to give a presentation on it. The order was determined by random draw, and TB ended up with the first pick. He choose Dr. Licht's book on railroad history and Week 1.

Or maybe he just remembers it that way because he's told the story so many times?

Anyway, labor unrest is a big story in college athletics today, thanks to the Northwestern football team. The story is that Northwestern, in conjunction with an organization called the National College Players Association, has filed the necessary paperwork with the National Labor Relations Board to seek to become a union.

This is a fascinating story.

First of all, the major question is whether or not college athletes can be included under the heading of "employees." If not, then there is no way to unionize.

Second, the NLRB only has the ability to impact private universities, not state universities. And apparently this is only about football and men's basketball.

TB doubts that this particular effort by Northwestern will be easily successful. The quotes in the story from the NCAA and the University indicate that neither is willing to consider the possibility that the athletes are employees.

Still, this, coupled with the whole controversy of whether or not athletes should be paid and the O'Bannon lawsuit that asks the question of who owns the rights to a college athlete's image have the ability to shake the entire enterprise to its foundation.

As TB explained to MTB about the issue of paying athletes, the entire concept of intercollegiate athletics has been based for more than 100 years on the idea of amateurism. Of course, this is a relatively cynical idea, since big-time college football and basketball generate millions and millions of dollars for power conference schools.

The extension of that is that these are students who are participating in a voluntary activity, not employees who are working out of necessity.

And yet the point that the athletes are making is a reasonable one. If they're the ones playing, shouldn't they have a say over the rules by which they play? Eligibility. Professionalism. Player safety. Student-athlete experience.

Right now, athletes have direct say over none of that.

They have indirect say in the form of organizations like each campus' Varsity Student Athlete Advisory Committee and then the league-wide and NCAA versions. For the most part, though, there is no way to address concerns.

The other part of that is that supply of college athletic spots falls far short of demand. For every college athlete, there are hundreds of high school athletes who never got the chance to continue to play, as much as he/she may have wanted to.

Whenever an issue like this comes up, TigerBlog always thinks about it in terms of how it impacts the biggest time college football and basketball schools and then how it translates to Princeton and the Ivy League.

Because of the absence of athletic scholarships and the fact that there is nothing binding athletes to their programs, the closest case for a monetary value to an athletic space here would be the admissions piece. That would never reach the threshold for being considered employees.

TB does get the idea of players at Northwestern or other schools like that who look around and see the big, big dollars they are directly responsible for and think 1) where's my piece of it and 2) if I'm not getting a piece, where's my say in how the rules are made.

TB would argue that graduated without student-load debt in this day and age is way more important than being unionized, but that's not the point.

Meanwhile, the world of college athletics continues to have its oldest tenets challenged. Who knows what might come when the tree finally gets shaken out.

TigerBlog assumes Princeton will be largely unchanged. The teams that dominate the television coverage?

They might bear little resemblance to what they do today.

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