Recently a group calling itself the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) challenges the status quo by asking the National Labor Relations Board for the right to form a players union. Northwestern University quarterback Kain Colter is one of the founders of the newly formed CAPA and once the NLRB Okayed the formation of the union, Colter announced it at a press conference.
CAPA’s ultimate goals are to acquire guaranteed coverage for sport-related medical expenses sustained by current and former players, to establish improved concussion prevention and return to play guidelines, to allow players to receive compensation for commercial sponsorships and to increase players’ rights.
Michael McCann, the director of the University of New Hampshire’s Sports Law and Entertainment Institute, said it’s difficult to predict what kind of fallout we will see, but it will likely be “something more in line with athletes getting compensation, but also consistent with Title IX rules.”
The issue of creating a union for college athletes is not a new one but this is the first attempt to formalize the process. It is expected that this issue will not only be controversial but will also create a host of legal issues that impact everything from women’s sports to non-revenue producing sports at the college level.
According to a poll conducted by HBO Real Sports and The Marist College Center for Sports Communication, three in four Americans (75 percent) think college athletes should not be allowed to join a union since they aren't college employees. The poll also shows that 22 percent feel the student athletes should be able to join a union while the remaining 4 percent are "unsure."
The HBO Real Sports/Marist Poll also shows that 28 percent of non-white residents are in favor or athletes unionizing, while only 19 percent of white residents support the idea. On the flip side, 67 percent of non-white Americans are against the idea of a student athlete's union compared to 78 percent of white residents.
The announcement also set off speculation over what might happen if the ruling holds up on appeal:
— Would the big-revenue sports have unions, but others be left to fend for themselves?
— Would private school athletes get to negotiate over issues such as compensation and health insurance, while their public school counterparts are denied a spot at the bargaining table?
— Would high-profile programs such as Notre Dame and Alabama be better positioned financially to share a piece of the pie with athletes, leading to an even wider gap between the haves and have-nots?
"I just don't think you can come up with any kind of formula that's going to be equitable and fair to all," said John Chaney, who coached men's basketball at Temple for a quarter-century and was never shy about expressing his views on the ills plaguing college athletics.
The NCAA and its conferences came out in unison against the ruling — not surprising; given their enterprise has contracts worth nearly $18 billion just for the television rights to the NCAA men's basketball tournament and football bowl games.
Expect this debate to rage on for many years. The current college football landscape may be flawed on some levels but it has worked to satisfy fans, alumni groups and college athletes for decades. Whether you love it or hate it, college athlete unions are on the verge of becoming a reality.