Unions Good, Payment Bad


The NCAA is a joke.

I’ve started too many columns this way, lately, but that truth is so apparent, it’s impossible to discuss college athletics without acknowledging it.

It’s a corrupted cesspool in which, too often, the dreams of student athletes are used to lure in the almighty dollar, then dragged to the bottom and drowned  when no longer useful.

Which is why I applaud the students at Northwestern University and yesterday’s ruling allowing them to unionize.  Because the NCAA’s relationship with its, what I can now call workers, typifies the very reason unions rose to power – greedy, uncaring executives with an endless supply of potential employees, and a population of laborers in desperate need of whatever help could be provided to them.

It’s less dramatic, of course, but the plight of a gifted yet economically struggling youth desperate for a way out of the gut-wrenching poverty that has plagued his family for generations – whose scholarship, whose way out can be pulled from him for injuries sustained on the field – is not too far removed from a depression-era factory worker in need of a paycheck, a mistake on the assembly line away from unemployment.

That injury can cost a student his education, that coaches are allowed to block students from transferring to another school, that students are pressured to disregard their academics, and that each happens with such flippancy and frequency is disgraceful – a corruption by which we should all be outraged.

And a corruption that players should have the power to fight together.  They deserve to unite as one, and demand the sort of fair treatment the NCAA pretends it makes a priority.

But that’s as far as it should go, because scholarships are still compensation enough.

As I’ve written before, yes, the NCAA is making money hand over fist.  Yes, they’re doing it on the backs of student-athletes.  And yes, their concern for said student-athlete is as low as their profits are high.

But as much as their rulebook is antiquated and absurdly complex and in need of review, their guiding principle is right.

And as ridiculous and unnecessary as so many of their restrictions seem – and are in some cases – the fact is that in today’s world of big money, big law, and big loopholes, any form of payment would soon become corrupted, and would usher in an era of high school seniors inking signing bonuses when declaring their college selection.

One in which the proliferation of player salary – either from boosters now allowed to pay athletes for sponsorship, or from the school itself – will doom college athletics as we know it.  The money making schools will throw the cash around and leave nothing left for the medium sized guy, to say nothing of the little one.  And with money now needed to be spent in order to be made, funding will be diverted from non-profit sports and into football and basketball – eliminating scholarship opportunities for thousands of athletes who, while not on TV, are in the same desperate need of help.

The athletes are paid enough already.  They don’t need cash.  They need to band together and force the NCAA to put the student back in student-athlete.

Author: Joseph White

Joe Bianchino is a writer, producer, and radio host located in upstate New York. He is a life-long New York sport fan, Chelsea supporter, and Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter @JoeBNTS. Email him at