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NCAA Unions, Pay for play, and why it rubs me the wrong way.

Matt Marton-USA; TODAY Sports

I've spent a lot of time on Bull Run talking about "Pay for play" in athletics, and fortunately we have some really smart editors who disagree with me ***cough* CONRAD *cough** so Bull Run gives you both sides of the story.

I've always tried to leave my own biases out of the conversation and instead focus on facts. Like the fact only about 10-20 college athletics programs actually make money, or the fact by law if you pay 80 football players and 12 basketball players you are going to, at a minimum find 92 women to pay.

Despite the best intentions of having this be about academic issues it will soon come to compensation. Thanks to laws like the Ledbetter act and Title IX any pay which eventually comes from the Union will have to be applied equally to the women. Then, if you're inclined to believe the "fair" argument you have to ask if softball players get paid why not baseball players?

But putting all of that aside I have never really articulated why in object to the argument "they bring in so much money they should be paid" (Other than it not being true for a huge majority of college programs).

My objection goes like this... Life is not always fair and you only get equal outcomes for all by hurting someone else. You might be the one College athlete that fans show up in droves to see. Chances are though that you're not, your someone who I root for because you play for my school.

Conrad has a great piece up about what, per hour, many poor Northwestern student athletes make. The crux of his point is that these kids would be better off at Northwestern if they had a McJob rather than play as a scholarship athlete?

So why don't they?

I mean if the question is "Would You Play Football for $3.47/hr?" when you could flip burgers in the state of Lincoln for $8.25 per hour how do you answer.

Either you don't play football and flip burgers, or you decide that for some reason you benefit more from playing football for $3.47 per hour than you do flipping burgers for $8.25 per hour. I'm guessing a lot of people decide to play football for $3.47 an hour because they consider the non monetary benefits to be worth more than the 5$ an hour difference.

In the recent past I have turned down higher paying contracts for a lower one that offers me something else. I might be giving up 5$ an hour by taking Job B over Job A but that difference comes with the chance for me to learn or experience something at B that I could not get at A.

That's life! Sometimes you don't get the job you want. But you may take the lesser monetary offer between two because it might set you up for that better job in the future. There are about a dozen Wildcats in the NFL over the past decade or so.  That's a very small percentage of the total players who have been sippin' on purple.

So how does Northwestern keep 80 guys on the roster for a so-so big ten team which *might* put one or two guys a year into Sunday NFL games? And they only compensate them with $3.47 an hour!

The number one reason is the value of an education at a school like Northwestern. While I am sure many of the Wildcats could have gotten into the school without football I would be willing to bet that more than a few players used their gridiron skills to "get them over the goal line". Once the players are in a school they get academic assistance, tutors, and other tools which many students can not avail themselves of.

There is also the life experience of being on a football team which I would argue is nearly as valuable as an education itself. You form friendships which transcend your normal socioeconomic status in life. You learn team building, organization, motivation, and how to both support and trust the people around you.

Those are invaluable things to have in the business world.

Why is it so many college teams manage to find walk on players? They are not paid $3.47 an hour, they are playing gratis, and 99% of the time they are not the guys who get to be the "big man on campus". They just get the "Rudy experience" but without the big happy star filled ending. They get beat up in practice all the time and *maybe* get in on a few special teams plays.

When I was a teaching assistant at UB I had a couple such kids in my classes. They were balancing football along with engineering classes and accumulating as much debt as I was for the privilege.

Now I don't believe that the system as it exists if 100% fair to players. There are things that these players should be fighting for and if the NCAA or schools won't hear them out then maybe a Union is what's called for.

First there is the issue of putting academics first. This HAS to be mission number one for everyone. Whether it's a kid at North Western who might otherwise be at a community college or someone who in addition to being a division one athlete walked into the school from the top of their class and rocked a perfect SAT.

Each of these kids needs to be treated as if the education they are getting is the real treasure. That means you need to respect internships, class schedules, and the demands of some GPA breaker courses.

One of the grievances listed by a Northwestern player is that as a football player he could not fit the classes he needed for his premed major in. That's just plain wrong, period. If you're not going to put their school in front of practice than for the love of Pete don't try to sell us the idea you care about the "student athlete".

The second I think is access to compensatory pay for their skills outside of school. I've talked about this before on Bull Run. The NCAA should be leading the charge for a viable off season league for scholarship athletes. At the very least they need to lock down the practice of "voluntary" conditioning practice during the summer.  Let the students get a job over the summer to earn pocket money throughout the year.

My worry about the union efforts have nothing to do with the listed grievances. My worries are simply that the unions, or the non student athletes that will profit from the union, are going to press this to be something more, a true situation where the students are employees.

That will end college athletics as we know it. Make no mistake such a move would eventually mean the end of scholarship sports at more than two thirds of NCAA division one schools and, as a consequence, college scholarships for thousands of young men and women.