Athletes need a new set of standards

College athletes should be held to the same economic and academic responsibilities as the rest of us.

Ronald Dixon

The National Labor Relations Board ruled last month that football players at Northwestern University can unionize as university employees, which sparked further debate about the treatment of college athletes nationwide. Anti-trust lawsuits, protests and public displays from athletes led up the decision and brought the issue to the national spotlight. Advocates argue that students should receive some of the wealth of the NCAA and be allowed to unionize and receive better health care.

I share many of the concerns that these advocates express; sports are incredibly taxing, and students should receive appropriate compensation for their time and the physical wear on their bodies. However, if college athletes decide to capitalize on the board’s decision and unionize, it should come at a cost. If they are to receive pay and health care benefits, colleges and universities should also re-examine scholarships for athletes.

In the debate about the treatment of college athletes, many critically leave out their scholarships. Though colleges and universities can’t guarantee financial aid, many college athletes have scholarships, which may pay for some or all of their education expenses and other costs.

Let us think about this from the perspective of the vast majority of college students: Is it fair to tell high-achieving students to work multiple jobs during college in order to afford living expenses when college athletes get to play their sports while getting paid, receiving benefits and scholarships?

I don’t want to downplay the significance of college athletics. Many college athletes are very different than Northwestern’s football team. Many students aren’t in revenue-generating sports and/or think about their sport as a hobby, rather than a career path. Athletics enhance school pride and help universities market themselves to prospective students and employees. However, it seems like universities often place more value in a student’s athletic abilities rather than their academic accomplishments. This ought to change, and the creation of a union may push this in an extreme direction.

In an ideal world, we would make college free for everyone, and we would not have to bicker about the fairness of certain scholarships and benefits for specific groups of students. In an environment where universities place more of a value in what makes them money rather than education, however, we must point out the groups that have unjustifiably gained.

In my mind, the solution is rather simple: We should not discourage students from pursuing their athletic passions, but colleges should treat every student, regardless of work or extracurricular activities, the same.

While the idea that student athletes are university employees dignifies much of what they do for schools nationwide, it may further push the importance of an education out the door. The new moniker also comes with greater responsibility to be more traditional university employees: trading scholarships for other benefits, focusing on education and losing athletic privileges that other employees do not enjoy.

There are real challenges that many athletes face that universities should address, but these potential benefits need to come with an expectation that all colleges hold students to the same economic and academic standards.