Taking a rather dim view of the National Labor Relations Board ruling deeming Northwestern University football players employees with the right to unionize, the Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins sneers, “If Kain Colter is an exploited laborer, then is a female tennis player at Stanford an exploited laborer, too? Is a lacrosse player at Virginia an exploited laborer? Is a rower at Harvard?” Fascinating question — how much in TV rights fees and corporate sponsorship money has been generated by the NCAA Rowing Final Four?
Colter and his peers aren’t laborers due compensation; they are highly privileged scholarship winners who get a lot of valuable stuff for free. This includes first-rate training in the habits of high achievement, cool gear, unlimited academic tutoring for gratis and world-class medical care that no one else has access to. All of which was put into perspective by Michigan State basketball Coach Tom Izzo when he was asked about the ruling at the NCAA tournament East Region semifinals in New York.
“I think sometimes we take rights to a whole new level,” Izzo (above) said. “ .?.?. I think there’s a process in rights. And you earn that. We always try to speed the process up. I said to my guys, ‘There’s a reason you have to be 35 to be president.’ That’s the way I look at it.”
Izzo got at something that no one other commentator has: College athletes enroll at their institutions to mature. Whatever their end goals, pro aspirations or workloads, they are no different from any other students in that respect. They are there to develop emotionally, intellectually and physically, and that’s all a school owes them, no matter how much revenue is generated by Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M.
Correction, that’s all a school used to owe them. Izzo isn’t earning $3.4 million annually (far more than his university president or any MSU professor) because he’s a wonderful educator, it’s because college basketball is a massive money-spinner, one that cannot exist without players (in this case, a woefully under-compensated workforce).