In our opinion: Letting college athletes unionize is not the answer to problems in sports


Return To Article
  • Darkbull Pleasant Grove, UT
    April 8, 2014 7:51 p.m.

    @Mark from Montana: one clarification. BYUs athletic dept finances are maintained entirely independent of school/LDS church funding. They get ALL their money from revenue generated + donor contributions. There is no money coming from regular student tuition or other sources. I'm amazed more Utah journalists do not write about--and it's significant in a world where there is concern about whether monies paid by students should be given to athletic programs.

    Unless college athletics truly returns to an amateur status, there needs to be funding for the students. They are targeted toward "easier" degrees, so their education provides them little future opportunity once college is over (with some exceptions); they have no insurance or other compensation to aid them with chronic and now "pre-existing" conditions suffered in job-related injuries; they receive, outside the compensation of tuition, a stipend which for most does not cover typical expenses of a college student, so most are left with being FT students, FT employees of the athletic department, and then FT workers to earn living wages, unless they're lucky enough to have their parents financial support. They deserve opportunity to bargain for workplace rights, as do all Americans.

  • idablu Idaho Falls, ID
    April 8, 2014 8:45 a.m.

    Completely agree with this op-ed and with Ifel and Jarvis.
    Unionization of college students is absurd. Calling students "employees" is really a stretch. However, I agree with the concept of providing some type of a long term insurance as a "workman's comp."

    Paying college football players creates far more problems than it resolves, and those on the band wagon of paying football players are being extremely short-sighted. This will force most schools to abandon athletics altogether, and even the biggest schools would be forced to drop all but basketball and football.

  • Demiurge San Diego, CA
    April 7, 2014 11:35 p.m.

    Everyone in college athletics makes money but the ones pulling most of the load. They are clearly exploited and have always been exploited. The idea of "amateur" sports is there only to perpetuate the exploitation.

  • Howard Beal Provo, UT
    April 7, 2014 11:17 p.m.

    You have to love their spirit. They are fighting for what they think is right. Good for them...

  • let's roll LEHI, UT
    April 7, 2014 8:02 p.m.

    Random thoughts...

    Who generates the income, the athletes or the schools? Lot's of "star" college athletes don't make it in the pros. Why don't they form their own teams and play each other? It's the logo and the brand (at both the college and pro level) that generates the vast majority of the income.

    Olympic rules re amateurism went through a significant change in recent years allowing athletes to still compete while being able to profit off of their likeness and notariety. Might be worth emulating some of those rules. Wouldn't be a need for a school to pay most athletes if the athletes could profit from their "fame."

    Finally...nothing can change without managing within the constraints of Title IX. Schools have to run (and finance) entire athletic programs, not just football and basketball teams. Any change has to be broad enough to encompass all, not a select few.

  • Ultra Bob Cottonwood Heights, UT
    April 7, 2014 6:41 p.m.

    Animals of the prey specie should not be allowed to form herds.

  • LDS Liberal Farmington, UT
    April 7, 2014 3:25 p.m.

    2 bits
    Cottonwood Heights, UT

    I'm against paying players to play.

    That's not the issue.

    The issue is being allowed to Unionize.

    The United States Constitution explicitly provides for 'the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances' in the First Amendment.

    I'm just tired of Conservatives - anti-Unionists - trampling the Constitution.
    and that's when it turns political.

  • Richie Saint George, UT
    April 7, 2014 3:23 p.m.

    Mark has the right idea. Universities should concentrate on scholastics and forget the NCAA. BYU-Idaho has the right idea. Intermural athletics for all. Kentucky provides the best case for abolishing College sports. Watch the game tonight and you see Rick Piteno start 5 freshmen who won't be back next year and probably won't even finish their freshman year in college. Minor leagues beyond the D league are the answer.

  • 2 bits Cottonwood Heights, UT
    April 7, 2014 3:06 p.m.

    @LDS Liberal,
    Really... you're going to play "Politics" with even this?

    You really have a one-track-mind. And it's politics all the time... no matter what.

    We can play political games with this, but it gets us nowhere but the usual rhetoric-ville.

    I think expressing your opinion on the subject itself would suffice. You don't have to take any political shots at anybody. We're not keeping score here...

    What do you actually think (yourself) about paying college players to play? Politics asside... You like it? Or you don't? And try not to let your politics be your guide. Just what do you want to see happen (all rhetoric asside)?

  • cavetroll SANDY, UT
    April 7, 2014 2:49 p.m.

    @ Fitz

    "The first 'A' in NCAA stands for amateur,"

    Except that the first 'A' stands for Athletics, as in "National Collegiate ATHLETIC Association".

  • LDS Liberal Farmington, UT
    April 7, 2014 2:36 p.m.

    Oh I see...

    The Deseret News feels that Corporations are "people" banding together to have a common voice and opinion,
    and also agrees that they should have unlimited access to Government officials via Free Speech and un-limited campaign contributions = GOOD


    that College atheltes trying to band together to have a common voice = BAD.

    Why can I see this,
    and the newspaper can not?

  • marxist Salt Lake City, UT
    April 7, 2014 2:33 p.m.

    Re: Smart Aleck "Unionizing college athletes unnecessarily introduces an adversarial relationship between the students and the school. " This is an interesting statement.

    It mirrors the myth in society that management (capital) and labor are one in purpose. They aren't. Their relationship is in large part adversarial, as is the relationship between college athletes and their schools. The NLRB ruled college athletes are employees lest the Deseret News forget. So they can unionize. AND the suggestion herein that they get workers' comp is an excellent idea.

  • casual observer Salt Lake City, UT
    April 7, 2014 2:05 p.m.

    It probably creates more problems than it solves. Formally monitizing collegiate sports will lead to an even larger disparity among universities that is not based on academic values. The big money conferences have long ago dropped any pretense of academic values or standards for athletics other than a reduced version of the NFL combine.

  • 2 bits Cottonwood Heights, UT
    April 7, 2014 1:22 p.m.

    Most NCAA student athletes don't go pro in any sport.

    Less than 1% actually make a profession out of the sport they played in College. So let's try viewing it from that real perspective. Some pretend it's all just a farm leage for the NFL... but it's not just about football, and even most people who play football in college don't play football after college. So let's not pretend it would be best to turn college sports into a semi-pro leage.

    I think doing that would lessen the chances of a kid getting an education with an athletic scholarship (because most schools would end athletics, and the ones who keep it would only accept those who have pro-potential).

    Most kids playing college sports don't have pro-potential. Just a few do.

  • Ifel Of'a-sofa Alpine, Utah
    April 7, 2014 12:35 p.m.

    I am tired of hearing about about the "poor players or student athletes", they knew going in what the deal was.... they are getting a paid for education due to their athletic skill, that's it. They are not forced to do so. Its kind of like getting a job, then complaining you don't make enough money... except it IS NOT a job at this point for them.
    I am all for letting them make money by endorsements etc, and even increasing their stipend so they have a little date money etc, but that's it.
    If they want to be employees, are they willing to be fired for poor performance?
    If they want to be employees, are they ready to pay taxes?
    Do any Utah school athletes think they should be paid the same as Alabama athletes?
    Are the they ready to pay for their own room, board, tuition, fees, books, tutors etc?
    They have it pretty dang good compared to student who PAY to go to school.

  • Irony Guy Bountiful, Utah
    April 7, 2014 12:22 p.m.

    If people knew the truth about college sports--that their child's tuition goes to SUBSIDIZE these overgrown athletes--they would rise up and tear down the goalposts, but not for the typical reason.

  • Smart Aleck Vancouver, WA
    April 7, 2014 12:12 p.m.

    Unionizing college athletes unnecessarily introduces an adversarial relationship between the students and the school. The relationship between them has been, and should continue to be harmonious, since each derives a substantial benefit from the arrangement. Student athletes get use of the schools facilities and direction from coaches and trainers who prepare them to compete at a higher level, while the school uses their talents to promote the mission of the school and elevate its visibility. The status quo, while not perfect, is more equal than some people realize.

    While an overhaul of NCAA rules is long overdue, nobody wins with unionizing. There are too many unintended consequences down that path.

  • Ed Grady Idaho Falls, ID
    April 7, 2014 11:57 a.m.

    Leave it to the DN to be a shill for management.

  • pleblian salt lake city, utah
    April 7, 2014 11:29 a.m.

    The editorial while minimizes the problem while discounting a solution. There is a problem.

    I was a college athlete. My friends were scholarshipped athletes.

    At BYU, pressure to win trumped grades and academics. Athletes were signed up for dumbed down "athlete classes." The academically ambitions spoke with a counselor before "opting out."

    A friend's career ended in a catastrophic knee injury against a PAC 10 opponent. BYU grossed over $1,000,000 dollars that night. BYU paid the initial surgery and rehab. Then my friend lost his scholarship. His parents paid for his senior year. He's had three surgeries on the same knee, and another on his hand since graduation.

    An acquaintance played through injuries while at BYU. He thought he was going pro. He didn't. Nor did he graduate. He is divorced and has twice been to rehab for addiction to painkillers. BYU did not pay that bill. BYU should.

    Perhaps unionizing is extreme. But they are exploited. The NCAA can and should levy an income tax on schools, the proceeds going toward "workers comp" type claims. This would bring the schools' priorities in line with that of their "student athlete."

  • 2 bits Cottonwood Heights, UT
    April 7, 2014 11:23 a.m.

    If we expect every sport to produce a revenue stream that pays for all that sport's expenses... all but football and basketball would go away (even at big colleges).

    How many people would pay big bucks to see a college track meet. Or a swim meet. Or girls lacrosse? Those programs would be gone.

    Fact is... Football and Basketball bring in millions and pay for the rest of the sports programs at most schools.

  • AL The Younger Gilbert, AZ
    April 7, 2014 10:53 a.m.

    I am torn. One part of me says that this shouldn't happen. The other part of me says why not? I disagree schools should pay players. If players are good enough to go get endorsements, then schools should have no right to say no they cant. Its sad but the whole world is run by money and not morals. Money in the end will win in this situation. And we will be having a whole new set of issues once these 18 yr olds are making buckets of cash.

  • Brave Sir Robin San Diego, CA
    April 7, 2014 10:45 a.m.

    The discussion of Whittingham's salary is irrelevant. Whittingham is a public sector employee at a public university. If Utah's football players were getting paid, they would also be public sector employees. By law, public sector employees cannot unionize.

    Northwestern University is a private institution, hence the reason they were allowed to unionize by the courts. Thus the only universities in Utah that could be affected by this ruling are Westminster and BYU.

  • Silent Lurker Cottonwood Heights, UT
    April 7, 2014 10:38 a.m.

    @ liberal Larry Check the freedom of information disclosure for state paid employees and you will find that Wittingham's salary is not even in the top 10.

  • Steven S Jarvis Orem, UT
    April 7, 2014 10:29 a.m.

    Unionizing college sports or paying athletes beyond what they already are paid in scholarship is going to have a lot of negative effects. Only a few teams break even with the cost of running athletics and that would mean lost opportunity.

    First, all the women's programs will no longer be available. There are not enough women programs that are financially viable or self-sustaining around the US to run a league. Gone. Second, all the other sports besides men BBall and FBall will also be gone because they don't make money. Basketball won't be as hard hit as football under the change as there will be fewer 'employees' to pay. Football will lose big time. Most FBS programs do not make money currently. Only BYU did in 2012 for our state. Utah and USU lost money. Most of the programs will have to drop football if they had to pay people to practice and play because the cost of doing so may finally sink the schools that have programs. No more walk-ons, three-fourths of the programs will be gone and kids lose out on a dream.

  • mcdugall Murray, UT
    April 7, 2014 10:17 a.m.

    @liberal larry Whittingham's salary is just north of two million dollars per year.

  • Fitz Murray, UT
    April 7, 2014 10:12 a.m.

    The NLRB has stepped way over its authority. The colleges and universities that have sports programs run on NCAA rules and regulations. The NCAA is allowed to monopolize the control of these sports programs through Congressional authorization. The first 'A' in NCAA stands for amateur, which in this case means that they are not there to be employees, but rather students that have their education paid for as long as they comply with NCAA rules. They are not there to be employees. Along comes the NLRB, who is pushing every avenue they can dream up to unionize everything and everyone. In this instance, the NLRB has totally ignored the NCAA laws and rules, which bans unionization of student athletes, and decided they can trump Congressional laws. The NLRB does not have any legal authority through labor laws that trump NCAA laws and rules. The NLRB decision will not stand, they have, once again, overstepped their authority.

  • Schnee Salt Lake City, UT
    April 7, 2014 9:48 a.m.

    Here's the problem... how far does the union reach go? Does every school's athletes end up unionizing? This would start eliminating sports programs entirely from Division II and III schools and could seriously jeopardize many non-football/basketball programs at Division I schools.

  • Fitness Freak Salt Lake City, UT
    April 7, 2014 9:46 a.m.

    Its' all about CONTROL. The NCAA and the universities have it and don't want to give it up willingly.

    IF the NCAA didn't have a multi-billion dollar revenue stream, and IF the universities didn't pay their coaching staffs 6 and 7 figure incomes - I'd say the players are lucky to get a free college education.

    But thats' NOT the case.

    Let the colleges and universities bid on the athletes just like the pros. Some may decide to end their programs altogether, but there's not much of a downside to that either.
    Don't we fund colleges and universites for education anyway, or do we?

  • LDS Liberal Farmington, UT
    April 7, 2014 9:27 a.m.

    What's next?

    For the "owners" of these teams to use extortion,
    and pull moving trucks up in the middle of the night and
    up and move the entire athletic program to more expensive cities or Universities,
    who promise to build them bigger and newer stadiums?

    Sports -- Pathetic.

    Let the Teams Unionize.
    It's the only way to keep the "owners" in check.

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    April 7, 2014 9:20 a.m.

    For colleges not competing the top tier, the concept that the student athletes get much in trade for their playing is true. In top level programs, the schools and coaches make millions. Few athletes graduate, those who do often have a pitiful education despite any degree, and many get injured.

    The concept that college play enhances the athlete's pro careers is exactly the point. Top level programs function like the minor leagues. Careers can get made playing in the minors. But they can also end there due to injuries.

    Should the athletes be paid? Not sure. But should they at least get a seat at the table when their careers are on the line? Yes.

    Colleges that don't like this should go back to competing a lower levels where student athletes have no realistic shot at the pros and value instead the scholarship provided. The college gets true student athletes, the athlete gets a real (and completed) education, the coaches don't make millions so the president of the college can still control them.

  • Hutterite American Fork, UT
    April 7, 2014 9:05 a.m.

    They shouldn't unionize only because there shouldn't be all that money in so called amateur athletics. In reality, the money is there, and chances are pretty good the players will be left out of the gravy unless they unionize. So maybe you should be calling for a return to truly amateur athleticism at the college level, maybe with a corollary of increasing our entire societal focus on the academic pursuits of college.

  • Esquire Springville, UT
    April 7, 2014 8:42 a.m.

    @ Dr. Thom, adjuncts can unionize. They did at George Washington University and the results have been positive - not enough, but positive.

  • 2 bits Cottonwood Heights, UT
    April 7, 2014 8:39 a.m.

    I can argue both sides. Both have a good case. Students who work in concessions or clean the stadiums get paid... why shouldn't the athletes. Students who work in food services or as a teacher's aid get paid by the University... why shouldn't athletes. But athletes get a free education and media attention for playing for the school (which other college employees don't get).

    I think if we pay athletes it will just end or severely limit athletics at small schools. All schools can't afford to pay their players what Universities with wealthy donors like USC can pay their players. USC (and a few other schools) would eventually become the LA Lakers of college athletics (attracting all the best players). We already have this to an extent, but add the ability to use MONEY to attract players to your school... and it would just get worse.

    I say if athletes get paid to play... they should not be given scholarships (just money) and they pay tuition (like other students). They could use the money they get paid to work for the college to pay their tuition (like other student employees do).

  • LDS Liberal Farmington, UT
    April 7, 2014 8:23 a.m.

    There is Right and there is Wrong.
    There is Right and there is Left.

    Then there are those who can not tell the difference,
    and entertwine the 2 constantly.

    The Deseret News seems to fall into that category.

  • sherlock1 cache, UT
    April 7, 2014 6:44 a.m.

    The fact that this newspaper is owned by the same church that owns BYU, who's football program brings in literally millions of dollars every year to the school, should disqualify you from providing an opinion or at least label it properly as propaganda. While I do not have an answer right now for the problem of what to do with student athletes, I do not think it is appropriate for the schools to be exploiting football players the way they do. How many sprinters can die from their sport? Or get paralyzed or just have a lifetime injury? Why should the coaches and the school make millions off the efforts and risk of these kids? Just pay them so they can afford the school and then take away their scholarships. This would probably go along way to helping them learn to manage their money long before they get out into the real word where everyone will continue to exploit them.

  • JoeBlow Far East USA, SC
    April 7, 2014 6:42 a.m.

    Not all college athletes are being "exploited". But, certainly there are some that are putting lots of money in the school coffers.

    That is why college coaches are making so much money.

    The top 70 highest paid college football coaches make over $1 million per year. The top 35 college basketball coaches make over $1 million.

    I dont know if unionizing is the answer, but the top athletes are generating far more revenue than they receive in educational benefits.

  • liberal larry salt lake City, utah
    April 7, 2014 6:34 a.m.

    The NCAA "March Madness" event generates close to one BILLION DOLLARS in television revenue. The college football playoffs will generates around HALF A BILLION DOLLARS, and Kyle Wittingham is the highest paid Utah State employee with an income package of about $700,000/year.

    Someone is making a lot of money off college athletics. Shouldn't college athletes be able to negotiate to get their slice of the pie?

    Since when has the capitalist, free market, Deseret News editorial board decided to come out in favor of restraint of free trade?

  • Dr. Thom Long Beach, CA
    April 7, 2014 4:47 a.m.

    If collages and universities have "long exploited athletes" then image how long adjunct professors have been exploited and denied FT benefits, career incentives such as an office, phone, and other scholarly resources not mention equal pay. The average adjunct because of new IRS rulings concerning Obamacare are required to teach less than 30 hours per week or one class per semester or be considered FT with benefits. This means that and adjunct who normally earned $40,000 teaching 4 classes at the same school now has to teach four classes at four different schools just to break even. While there has been a recent push to unionize adjuncts, most institutions are resistant to this change. Also If football players can be unionized, what about swimmers, tennis, gymnastics and dance students who also compete? While athletes are required to bring certain abilities and skills to their job, what about adjuncts many with PhDs. Should they not have the same protection of a union?

  • Mark from Montana Davis County, UT
    April 7, 2014 1:32 a.m.

    It is time to abolish all sports at the university level. At least sport organized by the university. Eliminate all scholarships, remove all coaches, stop spending money on all sports. My understanding is that while some programs bring money into the university, on whole they are losing propositions. At a time when tuition is being increased faster than inflation, it is time to cut costs. Remove the distraction of sports and concentrate on the purpose of the university, teaching.

  • marxist Salt Lake City, UT
    April 7, 2014 12:37 a.m.

    I can't resist pointing out the top heavy distribution of income which prevails in college football and basketball. Athletic directors and coaching staff often draw multi-million dollar salaries. Whereas the players "make" almost nothing - a weak college degree if on scholarship, some free food, and access to the intercollegiate weight room.

    College football and basketball players need unions for the same of the reasons labor in general needs them - to restore some sanity to the distributions of wealth and income. But with the athletes they need to negotiate protections against permanent injury - like NFL players are getting belatedly.

  • marxist Salt Lake City, UT
    April 7, 2014 12:11 a.m.

    Unionizing college football and basketball makes as much sense as NFL and NBA player associations. We know that college football and basketball conferences are the "minor leagues" for their respective sports, on behalf of the NFL and NBA. Because of this college athletes, particularly in these two sports, put their efforts first and foremost into their sports. Yes about half of them get degrees, but usually in weak academic programs (with the exception of Alex Smith - there are always exceptions).

    College football players and basketball players take enormous risks with their physical well-being. Most of them never go pro. Many are left with lifetime injuries for which there is no compensation.

    Unions make sense for college athletics!