The threat of a football union has the NCAA talking

Nike official NCAA size footballs

Nike official NCAA size footballs.

Scholarship football players at Northwestern University will participate in a historic vote Friday on whether to form a labor union. This vote, as well as lawsuits challenging NCAA rules for athletes, are already forcing the NCAA and big football schools to rethink the business model of college sports.

Until recently, schools were only allowed to feed their giant hulking college athletes a certain amount of food. “There were even rules in place over whether a bagel with cream cheese was a meal or a snack," says Andrew Muscato, producer of the documentary “Schooled – The Price of College Sports." The NCAA’s food rules, which classified a plain bagel as a snack, but with the addition of a spread made it a meal, were draconian, he says.

“And that was a rule that ultimately was changed, but it was changed because of public pressure, and the perception that these athletes are being taken advantage of considering how much revenue they’re bringing back to the universities," he says.

Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College, says even if the union receives a yes vote tomorrow,  the decision would still have to be approved by regulators.

"At the end of the day, the actual demands that would seem to come out of the football players at Northwestern," he says, "are unlikely to be met via collective bargaining. And the most important element here is that they’re providing more momentum, more fuel for the fire of reforming the NCAA."

As of Thursday, the NCAA said its biggest conferences can now give more aid to their student athletes.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...