By JOHN SHINN
Last week, the Chicago office of the National Labor Relationships Board ruled Northwestern football players were employees of the school and have the right to form a union.
The ruling, which Northwestern has appealed, has the potential to alter amateur athletics. For one, classifying college athletes as employees would end the NCAA’s long-held notion that players are not professionals. If they are employees of the universities, then they have to be compensated as such. Players who suffer injuries could also be eligible for workman’s compensation claims and potential disabilities benefits.
The NLRB ruling was limited. It only applied to private universities. But it’s considered highly likely that if it’s upheld athletes at public schools will receive the same classifications.
OU coach Bob Stoops said Wednesday he didn’t have a stance on the matter because the full parameters of the decision are unknown.
However, he did caution that those players who want a bigger piece of the athletic revenue pie need to know that means others will have to do with less.
“As soon as you make it better and do something for one, well, someone else is probably going to pay the price for it,” he said. “This group got it a lot better and this group doesn’t have it anymore or doesn’t have participation anymore. This sport may go away and that sport may go away. In my heart I don’t believe that would be a good. I don’t know that that would happen. I’m just saying until they have more specifics, I don’t know what you say about it.”
Obviously, what Stoops, who made nearly $5 million last season, is talking about is if schools have to pay athletes, then non-revenue sports could quickly disappear.
Even a sport like football, which generated nearly $70 million in revenue for OU during the 2012-13 fiscal year, could face scholarship reductions.
OU quarterback Trevor Knight is like most college players. He’s aware of the initial ruling in the Northwestern case, but hasn’t fully studied it. However, it has been a locker room topic among players.
“I try not to get too wrapped up in that. Whatever is going to happen will happen,” he said. “I’m just flying by the seat of my pants, I guess.”
Whatever comes from the case could take years to hit college campuses. Northwestern has vowed to appeal the initial ruling all the way to the Supreme Court. The NCAA will also fight any decision that labels players as employees.
Stoops didn’t get into many specifics, but he fully supports scholarships covering the full cost of attendance and might be open to other changes.
“I would say that I’m all for whatever things we can do to enhance all of the student-athletes’ experience,” he said, “not just football.”