NCAA’s Worst Nightmare? Student Athletes Unionizing

Iowa's Caitlin Clark celebrates after an NCAA Women's Final Four semifinals basketball game against South CarolinaFriday, March 31, 2023, in Dallas. Iowa won 77-73 to advance to the championship on Sunday. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

The term “student-athlete” is a sham.

A nightmare scenario for the National College Athletic Association and its member colleges and universities would be student athletes unionizing. Big-time college sports schools officials do not want to pay players and are very reluctantly going along with the student-athletes making marketing deals so it would be hard to imagine any circumstance where they would accept a student athlete players association. In 2021, the National Labor Relations Board released a nine-page memo which concluded that college athletes at private schools are school employees. Nothing came of that. If the players were able to unionize, collective bargaining negotiations would start with the student-athletes looking for long term health care. But the NCAA has anticipated that in a small way. Beginning on August 1st, 2024, the NCAA will offer member schools post-eligibility injury insurance coverage for student-athletes. It is not a long-term solution. The coverage will be for only two years after student-athletes are done and will cover injuries that occured while playing for a school.

In 2014, football players at Northwestern University in Chicago voted to unionize which did not stand well with the university, the NCAA officials or legislators in Ohio where the politicians voted to make sure Ohio State football players and other Ohio State athletes remained student-athletes not school employees. In August 2015, the National Labor Relations Board dismissed a petition by the players who were seeking to unionize. The players get a scholarship and are considered “student-athletes” for worker’s compensation purposes. Schools really don’t want to deal with athletes who might be injured on the “job,” and fight against paying players because they are unable to work anywhere because of being hurt. That is why the term “student-athlete” was coined as it shields colleges and universities from paying worker’s compensation in the event of a severe injury suffered during a game. College sports is just a business.

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Vanderbilt tight end Ben Bresnahan (86) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Florida in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. Vanderbilt won 31-24. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)