Pay-for-Play: Should College Athletes Be Unionized?

Monday, February 03, 2014

Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter speaks at a press conference to announce the creation of a new labor organization to represent college players on Jan. 28, 2014. (David Banks/Getty)

Over the last few years, the relationship between college athletes and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has grown increasingly complicated and contentious.

Together college football and college basketball earn more money than any other American sporting organization, with the exception of the NFL. As profits have grown for the NCAA, some college athletes have raised questions over whether they should be paid. And if they are paid, should they be allowed to organize?

Just recently, Northwestern University quarterback Kain Colter teamed up with Ramogi Huma, the president of the newly formed College Athlete Players Association and the president of the United Steelworkers Unions, to push for real union benefits for college athletes.

“College athletes need a labor organization that can give them a seat at the table,” Huma told our partner The New York Times. “This ends a period of 60 years when the NCAA has knowingly established a pay-for-play system while using terms like ‘student-athlete’ and ‘amateurism’ to skirt labor laws.”

Though some argue that players are paid in the form of scholarship tuition to universities, Colter argues that the issue goes beyond monetary compensation.

"The action we're taking isn't because of any mistreatment by Northwestern," Colter told ESPN. "We love Northwestern. The school is just playing by the rules of their governing body, the NCAA. We're interested in trying to help all players—at USC, Stanford, Oklahoma State, everywhere. It's about protecting them and future generations to come. Right now the NCAA is like a dictatorship. No one represents us in negotiations. The only way things are going to change is if players have a union."

Joe Nocera, columnist for The New York Times and regular contributor to WNYC, says these student athletes should be able to form a union.

And former NCAA athlete Ibrahim Abdul-Matin agrees. Ibrahim is a former linebacker at the University of Rhode Island and an NCAA scholar-athlete. If offered the chance, he says he would have joined a players' union and that college athletes deserve benefits. 


Ibrahim Abdul-Matin and Joe Nocera

Produced by:

Allie Ferguson and Jen Poyant


T.J. Raphael

Comments [4]

Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

No Union can be created in a world that has squashed every Union. Sorry.

Feb. 03 2014 01:40 PM
Kay Merkel Boruff from Dallas

The players don't need a union for medical care. Obama's Affordable Care Act will take care of them.

Feb. 03 2014 12:47 PM

What propaganda.

You interview Joe Nocera of the Times, who is long on record promoting pay for college athletes.

The next interview, one might think in the interest of fairness, would be someone representing an opposing view. You didn't do that. Instead, you went to another "old friend of the program," Ibrahim Abdul-Matin. Who mostly amplified and expanded upon what Nocera said.

This isn't reporting, or investigation, or analysis of a story. This is propaganda. In your case, naturally, it is in the furtherance of a progressive/unionist political agenda. One-sided only, of course. And a disservice to public radio audiences, who will be left thinking that there cannot be another side to this story since it wasn't even given lip service on their favorite public radio station.

Feb. 03 2014 09:52 AM
Doug from Ohio

If the college players association determines that students are employees, will the IRS then want to tax the scholarship benefits?

Feb. 03 2014 09:46 AM

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