A warning shot for NCAA

The NCAA could avoid a union movement by treating players like students, not professionals.

Division I college football players sometimes devote up to 50 hours a week to their sport. Coaches regulate their weekly schedule, social media use, dress code and off-campus travel. The schools they play for will see hundreds of millions of dollars in profit from their sport.

These were some of the key factors that went into Regional Director for the National Labor Relations Board Peter Sung Ohr’s decision to allow Northwestern University’s football players to form a union.

The surprising legal victory comes at a time of growing tensions between student-athletes, their respective schools and the NCAA. There have also been serious criticisms of the way that the NCAA handles concussions. The NCAA requires athletics programs to develop and implement their own concussion policies, but the NCAA does not review or enforce these policies. Earlier this year, the NCAA consolidated almost a dozen lawsuits into one case because all suits had to do with the league’s knowledge of concussions and how it went about protecting players.

Like many, the NLRB’s decision surprised us. Our Feb. 10 editorial prior to the ruling acknowledged logistical and legal barriers that might prevent a players union from forming. Those same barriers may still come into play as Northwestern says it will appeal to the full NLRB in Washington.

Player unions are not an ideal solution for improving college athletics. Though it may be an apt label, officially calling and treating athletes as employees further removes them from the mission of higher education. The opposite needs to happen.

If the NCAA doesn’t want to see a player union movement proliferate, it should emphasize academics more and allow student-athletes official representation in decision-making processes. A more collaborative and transparent NCAA would benefit students without the potential hostility and legality issues of a full-fledged union movement.