Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter has brought the pay-to-play college athletes debate to the forefront yet again.
He has taken a different angle, though, in asking to be represented by a labor union, the National College Players Association. The petition has been filed and is backed by the United Steelworkers Union.
In theory, I understand why some student athletes want representation and some sort of protection. They sure don't get it from the NCAA. I think it needs to be discussed and considered, but student-athletes are not employees. They can walk away from their scholarship agreement any time they wish.
This latest movement seems to suggest the student-athletes want some say in their athletic state. I get it. They want scholarship guarantees. I tend to agree. They want a trust fund established for medical reasons. I agree with that as well. They should ask for academic assistance when traveling, to ease their stress in class.
For example, I know Oakland University didn't fly any tutors with them when they left for a week out West to play UCLA, Cal and Gonzaga. Those kids come back to school, how do you make up a week's worth of homework? You can't, but Colter and others need to understand what the end game is. If they eventually want financial compensation, that's not going to happen.
Not enough people fully understand what Division 1 athletes are provided. Not enough people, especially the NCAA, fully appreciate what these athletes go through. I can't say I grasped it either until I started calling University of Michigan basketball, and seeing the demands of these kids. They spend hours practicing, training and watching film, plus the media demands.
In contrast, people don't know athletes eat very well at training table, they get a stipend for food each week, can work if they need in the off-season. They get clothes and shoes to wear and, if one's family is struggling financially, they can apply for a Pell Grant that could pay them around $6,000. Many schools also provide the best tutors, or academic assistance. That in addition to hundreds of thousand of dollars in education received. It's not a bad college life.
There are too many questions surrounding this unionization idea. Not that it's wrong, but usually with unions there are fees. Who pays for that? How much is it? Is it the same cost for all student athletes? Are all student-athletes covered? What determines the cost and who is covered? What happens to those players who weren't covered under this protection plan, but have had health issues or graduation issues? These are just the tip-of-the-iceberg questions. We could go on and on, and that's why it needs to be discussed.
Look, the NCAA has only hurt itself by greedily making all these TV deals with the numerous networks, from ESPN to Fox Sports to conference and even school-specific networks. It should lay out where the money goes and pour some of it back into the student-athletes.
No one of wants to lose our college sports. The greed, unions and leagues have already helped spoil our enjoyment of professional athletics.
Matt Shepard is the play-by-play voice of University of Michigan basketball, Eastern Michigan University football and the Detroit Lions television network. He can also be found on TV locally on Fox Sports Detroit and nationally on the Big Ten Network for college hockey and baseball.Learn more.