In an attempt to give student-athletes a collective voice, players at Northwestern University have filed paperwork to form a player’s union under the National Labor Relations Board. The group, called the College Athletes Players Association, has outlined 11 goals in order to improve the safety and future of college athletes. The NCAA completely disregarded the players’ requests, noting that student-athletes are not employees by any definition and therefore have no rights to collectively bargain. However, Northwestern’s players pose legitimate demands regarding the well-being of student-athletes. The NCAA must work alongside college athletes to find a better way to address these concerns.

The players’ stated goals aren’t centralized on pay-to-play schemes but instead are more reasonable: increased attention to injuries, scholarship guarantees and allowing student-athletes freedom for employment or other commercial opportunities. Better benefits in education and healthcare would greatly enhance the quality of a student-athlete’s time in college and beyond. The union would give the players the means necessary to communicate with the NCAA regarding these issues, but the NCAA continues to shut the players out. Thus, the decision rests with the NLRB and the court systems.

The NCAA made $71 million in surplus revenue during the 2012 fiscal year with $872 million in total revenue. The University of Michigan’s projected budget for 2013-14 was $137.5 million, with a projected $8.9 million in surplus. Student-athletes are being used to generate these large profits, and deserve a collective say. The NCAA claims player participation is voluntary, however, college level sports often serve as the only stepping-stone for athletes pursuing a professional career. Even for athletes not planning on playing at the next level, scholarships are often a necessary means of paying for a post-secondary education.

In college sports, injury concerns are extremely prevalent, especially in football, with recent attention surrounding the many cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in players. Concussion treatment is a serious issue with CTE leading to effects such as memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, depression and aggressive behavior. An organized voice is necessary to guarantee long-term care for injured players.

Student-athlete scholarships themselves are not even a guarantee. Up until an August 2011 vote by Division I schools, universities couldn’t offer scholarships that would last longer than one year. However, since then only six schools in the major athletic conferences signed more than 24 multi-year scholarships. Scholarships that aren’t multi-year must be renewed each successive year, creating a situation where student-athletes have no protection for their futures.

Student-athletes have long been refused a seat at the table in the matters that concern them most. Issues such as medical care and scholarships, as well as other pressing issues such as whether to increase stipends to cover the full cost of attendance to prevent what Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter has called a “pay-to-play system,” the NCAA and its member institutions must work together to listen to the voices of student-athletes, unionized or not.

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