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If Student Athletes Are Allowed to Unionize, Will It Change How Colleges View All Their Students?

Emil Photo Again Edited 61b7dabb61239

With the NCAA making a profit of more than one billion dollars a year, I’ve got nothing against the unionization of student-athletes.

Basic equity just makes sense. And the way things are run today, we have an undeniable equity problem when it comes to student athletics.

When you consider what a star athlete does for a school, just one big time football star like a Johnny Manziel could subsidize an entire athletic program, maybe even a school — for years.

The New York Times estimated that Manziel probably cost Texas A&M $120,000 in scholarship money for his three years there.

Meanwhile, the amount of donations to the school because of Manziel’s winning ways brought in a reported $300 million in additional donations to A&M.

The school’s own estimate of the exposure Manziel brought to the school was put at $37 million during his Heisman winning year alone.

Now with the NLRB clearing the way for unionization, we could finally see some fairness come into the sporting equation ― at some point. It might take a few trial runs and court fights, beginning with Northwestern.

But it was important to take the first step ― recognizing that athletes aren’t just students, they’re essentially on work/study. And relative to the profits they generate, what they’re paid just doesn’t add up.

Among the student-athletes’ grievances include those with less than “full rides.” They still have to pay a portion of their college costs, as well as the costs of any sports-related injuries. And what of injuries that come down the road, as the NFL has found with concussions and early dementia? The current student-athlete pays a much bigger price to stay true to his school, all while the NCAA controls everything, including banning players from participating in all “commercial opportunities.”

Is that to protect a student-athlete’s amateur status?

Or to merely ensure their status as modern collegiate “slaves”?

That’s not too strong a term. Even with scholarships taken into account, the student-athlete is getting ripped off.

However, my larger concern is what happens to the non-student-athlete, the ones who work in the library and the dining hall? They may not have the talent to play on football field and bring in cash. Do they become second-class citizens on campus?

There’s already speculation that if unionization comes to pass maybe it will impact lesser sports like swimming, lacrosse or rugby (even though those sports in their low-keyness seem to have college athletics in perspective).

Instead of football subsidizing the lesser sports, a union might just cut out non-revenue sports.

But what if unionization also brings on a new kind of reality in how a school views its other students?

If colleges place a high value on jocks, what about the value it puts on non-athlete students? Will schools begin to see students solely based on their potential to be “positive revenue generators?”

Some schools have already done that with night-time MBA and professional programs to bring in cash.

But what if unionization impacts the way students in the undergraduate program are treated? What’s the value of a non-jock student in a unionized world? Nothing?

I think that could be a problem.

That shouldn’t make us question the validity of unionization. But if it doesn’t come to pass, we should continue to challenge the excessive power of the NCAA, and the imbalance in big money athletics at our colleges and universities today.

Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund ( Like him at ; twitter@emilamok

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