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College Athletic Union: The Dismantling of the NCAA?

What does Northwestern football forming a Union mean in the long term?

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest news from yesterday came within the Big Ten, as our brethren at Northwestern announced their intentions to unionize and get some phat cheddar from the NCAA. As always, Sippin' On Purple was on top of things:

They hope to form an association called the College Athletes Players Association. As of now, they have made no claims to be interested in pay-for-play, but are interested in ensuring football players get long-term medical benefits, more help with concussions, funds to graduate after their eligibility expires, and stuff like the ability to be compensated for endorsement deals.

It is a most interesting move, mostly because of the emerging knowledge of concussions and long-term health detriments of playing college football. Yes, there is a ton of money involved in college football, but the long-term healthcare is the bigger benefit. Even if college athletes don't get paid for their services only a handful on any roster has a legitimate shot at playing in the NFL. That leaves a lot of players who will never see a single paycheck for their services.

This is not the first time SB Nation has touched on the issue, as Patrick Vint wrote about it back in October during the famed All Players United movement:

Notably excluded from the NCPA list of missions and goals: Pay-for-play athletics. The APU asks for scholarship amounts to be raised to match the full cost of attendance -- an idea endorsed by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, among others -- but not for a salary to be paid by universities. It also asks that scholarships be protected for players who are in good standing but who have their athletic scholarships eliminated by coaches, as well as athletes that suffer permanent injuries. Many universities follow this protocol today.

Both of these ideas have reasonable goals. You can put me in the camp that athletes are already paid. At a time when student debt nationwide is at an all-time high, getting a full-ride scholarship that covers all of your educational expenses should definitely count as compensation. As we have seen though, those expenses can come and go. Coaches can revoke scholarships and there are always the health risks associated with playing a sport, both short term and long term.

Could athletes be considered employees, however?

The process of unionizing NCAA athletes could take years to occur. It begins with a decision by the appropriate Regional Director of the NLRB, whose decision can be appealed to the NLRB. That decision, in turn, can be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals and, ultimately, the Supreme Court. Northwestern is expected to oppose the petition.

It will be interesting to see, because where will the line be drawn? Will only the "money" sports of football and men's basketball be affected? Many other sports don't offer full scholarships because of limitations set by the NCAA. For example, baseball only allows 11.7 scholarships that have to be divided amongst an entire team. Would any union benefits carry over to baseball? Lacrosse? Rifle shooting?

It is a difficult issue that is nowhere near the end. On the one hand, the NCAA makes billions off the sweat of athletes who never see a dime of that money. On the other, many athletes receive compensation in the form of a scholarship that not only takes care of educational expenses, but if used properly, greatly improves their future earning potential. Our own Rob Henry even got involved in the issue a few years ago. As that article points out, it could be a way of creating a greater gap between the haves and the have nots.

Given the notorious cheapness of Purdue it does not bode well for the future.