Labor ruling could affect college athletics nationwide - WSMV Channel 4

Labor ruling could affect college athletics nationwide

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College sports could be in for a major game-changer, as the National Labor Relations Board has ruled student football players have the right to form a union.

For now, the landmark ruling only applies to Northwestern University, but many are asking whether other schools could soon follow.

"It's a big decision. It sets a precedent for other schools," said former Vanderbilt student Andrew Moore.

Sports broadcasters have discussed the issue for many years, and it again filled the airwaves Wednesday.

"There are probably 15-20 schools on the Division I level who truly can handle the consequences of that group winning," said 102.5 The Game sports radio host George Plaster.

At Northwestern, like many other schools, profits from the football program subsidize other sports.

"That one sport that gets 80,000 [spectators] to your campus on Saturday, they maybe fund 19 other sports, nine of which may be on the women's side and 10 on the men's side, and none of them are making any money," Plaster said.

The labor board's ruling is just the beginning. The next step will be when scholarship players vote to form the College Athletes Players Association.

But Northwestern University is not in favor of the ruling. The NCAA and Big Ten Conference oppose the ruling as well and plan to appeal.

"The NCAA likes to say these are student-athletes. I like to say they are athlete-students, so how do you monetize that?" said 104.5 The Zone sports radio host Brent Doughtery.

Some feel this ruling could have a major impact on NCAA sports in general.

"It will be interesting to see where this go from here, because there is a clear path to pay players. The question is how long does it take. I think this appeal will get shot down ultimately, but some day there will be a case before the Supreme Court to decide if these players get paid. It's just a slippery slope," Doughtery said.

Meanwhile, Tennessee State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, has introduced a student-athlete bill that would create a trust fund for players.

Division I schools would pay one percent of their athletic revenue into the fund, and players would apply for a grant once they graduate.

The proposal has already cleared a House education sub-committee.

Parkinson says his bill, if passed, could be used as a blueprint across the country.

"What happens now is these players and athletes risk themselves but generate billions of dollars, create jobs, but they don't benefit from these funds," Parkinson said.

This decision is even echoing in the halls of Congress. In a statement, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former president of the University of Tennessee, said:

"Imagine a university's basketball players striking before a Sweet Sixteen game demanding shorter practices, bigger dorm rooms, better food and no classes before 11 a.m. This is an absurd decision that will destroy intercollegiate athletics as we know it."

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