The NCAA Madness Continues: Are You Ready for Higher Ed’s Civil War?

Updated Apr 15, 2014

Is the NCAA running anything but a legal sweat shop?

We will have a winner this week, ending March Madness, but the winners aren’t likely to be the players.

Maybe a handful of young men will go on and get a big payday in professional sports. But they will be the exception. Most will go on to more normal lives out of the limelight, and the memory of having played in a tournament final in a nearly 80,000 seat arena will be the high point of their lives.

But the players knew their role in this operation. They just made millions for the NCAA, the networks, and everyone else with a finger on the pie. Yet, there was not a crumb for the “amateurs.”

Let’s hope the kids were at least able to keep the lousy shirts on their sweaty backs.

And that’s the truth about big-time college sports. You got the exploited, and your willing exploiters.

Disgusting right?

But cloaked and sanitized under the guise of collegiate athletics, the morality and ethical problems just seem to go away. Why, college athletics are just part of a proud tradition!

And most in higher ed just go along, because they’re just happy to take their cut.

Everyone likes the status quo.

Slaveholders in the South sure weren’t protesting when someone pointed out the ethical peculiarities about their unique labor practices.

I couldn’t help but think of that as I heard NCAA president Mark Emmert talk about the unionization effort of the football players at Northwestern.

At a weekend news conference, Emmert didn’t pull any punches, claiming that unionization “would blow up everything about the collegiate model of athletics.”

Well, that’s the point. The system needs to be blown up. But clearly, Emmert, who made $1.7 million last year, has his biases.

Last week, Peter Sung Ohr, the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board, ruled that the football players on athletic scholarships are school employees and could have an election to form a union.

The national board in Washington will have to decide to uphold that ruling before an election could be held. No doubt Congress will be involved as schools could push for an exemption from the National Labor Relations Act.

But Emmert is right: A union movement among student athletes would blow up the system. But it’s one he seems ready to fight to defend.

Is higher ed ready for a new civil war?

Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (www.aaldef.org/blog)  Like him at www.facebook.com/emilguillermo.media or follow him on twitter @emilamok.