Greed, amateurism, and unions — Just another day in college athletics

Should a Tiffin University football player receive $2,000 if they already receive a full-ride scholarship (tuition, room, board, and books)? How about an Ohio State football player? What about a Heidelberg University player who isn’t allowed to receive any athletic scholarship funding?

Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, said YES to the idea, at least for Division I football players. A formal legislative proposal for payment to athletes was soundly defeated at the NCAA convention last year and Emmert contends the pay for play concept is far from becoming a reality.

Or is it?

While supporting pay for play in theory, the NCAA president has never referred to student athletes as “employees” of the athletic department. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), however, ruled a few weeks ago that athletes from Northwestern University can be classified as employees of the institution and therefore are free to join the National College Players Association union.

Ready to join a union, Tiffin and Heidelberg players? Why not? Notice the union title doesn’t discriminate by division. If a Division I football player from a major university is defined as an employee allowed to join a union, then the definition and rights should also apply to a Division III field hockey player or a Division II swimmer.

Basically, the NLRB decision has opened a big-time can of worms and in its wake are more than 1,200 colleges supporting athletics who are wondering how the heck a student-athlete can be considered an employee and whether or not the NCAA’s appeal will put an end to the maddening thought of future compliance if the mandate stands. Equity would need to be applied at every level and across every sport for every one of the 450,000 plus student-athletes. Indeed, the ramifications of the employee status not being overturned by an appeal is mind-boggling.

The NCAA has been embroiled in litigation almost since its inception in 1905. One of the biggest legal challenges to its amateurism rules has been brewing for five years by athletes from multiple colleges who claim the nation’s largest governing body for college sports violated anti-trust laws by selling student-athlete images and likenesses to media companies. The NCAA currently stands as the lone culprit in a trial scheduled for early June since the other two defendants (Electronic Arts and the Collegiate Licensing Co.) agreed to pay $40 million to be removed from the lawsuit.

The NCAA is a business. It strategizes to increase a revenue stream that is primarily pumped directly back into the membership. So what if the conglomerate can attract an $11 billion dollar deal for the broadcast rights to the NCAA Men’s Division I basketball tournament or an almost $6 billion deal for rights to a college football playoff system. In the 2013 fiscal year, the NCAA recorded nearly $913 million in total revenue and a little more than $852 million in total expenses. Over the past three years, it has stockpiled at least $60 million annually in profits. It’s all business.

The percentage of revenue paid back to the membership used to be much, much greater, but the ever present pressure of legal challenges has prompted a more conservative fiscal strategy. Once upon a time when Tiffin University was competing in the NAIA, the university had to foot the bill for every expense associated with championship play. Those tremendous soccer years under Coach Ian Day cost President George Kidd Jr. and the college quite a bit back in the day of the mid-’80s to early-’90s. Since becoming a full NCAA II member, Tiffin now reaps the benefit of having 100 percent of the expenses associated with any postseason appearance covered.

The NCAA doesn’t only fund championships, it also funds student-athlete assistance funds, grant-in-aids, academic enhancement initiatives, and general conference funds covering a wide range of services, technology and programs. For the men’s teams in the annual march Madness tournament, its initial appearance and each win equals approximately $1.6 million paid directly to the conference.

The NCAA also finances dozens upon dozens of educational and professional development activities which often includes no cost in travel or accommodations for its intended audiences whether targeting minority administrators, student-athlete advisory committee members, or female coaches. It hasn’t been too shabby for a college like Tiffin University to belong to the NCAA as opposed to the NAIA. Even with a bumpy ride ahead for unsettling issues related to greed, amateurism, and unionization, the leadership and support of the NCAA for more than 100 years has primarily been a benefit to college athletics in America.

Stay tuned next month for more interesting sports stories from around the globe to our community in northwest Ohio.