New day coming for college, pro football?
College football may never be the same again after a National Labor Relations Board in Chicago ruled last week that Northwestern football players can unionize.
College athletes have been after a share of the profits they generate for years. Football is the powerhouse with basketball also contributing big bucks.
The NLRB decision is being challenged and so far it is confined to private colleges but this is not a new idea. It has been gaining ground for years. For the price of a college scholarship a university can put one of their uniforms on a Johnny Manziel, if they can find him, and reap millions. National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules stipulate the revenue from profitable college teams be distributed to support non-profitable sports like golf and gymnastics but a fair amount of the profit goes into a college's coffers to cover other expenses.
For some colleges it has been a win-win situation. Notre Dame has been one college with some impressive football-generated revenue. The Fighting Irish brought in more than $100 million of ticket revenue last year. Right now, the University of Texas is the kingpin of college football profits.
Of course, the athletes fortunate enough to play for a major college football program profit too. Many of these kids would not come close to a Division I college classroom if they did not have an athletic scholarship. They can attend classes and come out of a four-year program with a degree that can send them on their way to a successful career in any number of fields. If they impress a pro scout they can be picked up pro team and start earning an obscene amount of money in their early 20s - the kind of money most of their classmates will never come close to making.
Part of the reason for the unrest by Northwestern players has to do with injuries. What happens to them if they suffer a head injury or some other problem that ends their career?
NCAA figures show that less than two percent of college football student-athletes who compete in the United States go on to play professionally, so if you are a college player there has to be a big temptation to go after some of the profits that major colleges are cutting out for themselves.
I knew of a young man who was given a full ride scholarship to play hockey for the University of Minnesota. He was considered their No. 1 high school recruit the year he signed his letter of intent.
This freshman was drafted by a pro hockey team but he wanted to study engineering so he took on some pretty heavy classes that required a lot of his time. The day soon came when he found himself confronted by a grim reality — he was told his college scholarship depended on what he did for the Gophers on the ice. Hockey, not education, had to come first. To the surprise and disappointment of many, he turned his back on college hockey and ended up transferring to another campus.
Pro baseball and pro hockey have their farm systems and pro basketball team has a developmental league so maybe it is time pro football started footing the bill for developing their own players? It would certainly separate the athletic students from the students who happen to be athletes.