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College athlete union could spell the doom for college sports

The Final Four came to an end and crowned a champion in North Texas. I could make this column about how I loved the fact that Arlington got the shaft in that, but that’s for another time – maybe.

The point is this: We may want to appreciate another enthralling NCAA Tournament, whether it concluded in our backyard or not. Because there is that chance this type of excitement could be gone for good, if a very, very small handful of athletes get their way.

Recently, the college sports world was stunned by a decision from the National Labor Relations Board that a number of football players from Northwestern University did have the right to organize a union of college athletes. This is, of course, the latest attempt by athletes in claiming that a full scholarship to the college of there choice while thousands of other students go into eternal debt for a degree is not enough, and that they should be paid for the right to play intercollegiate athletics.

This was escalated further by UConn basketball guard and NBA prospect Shabazz Napier, who, in an interview before the title game against Kentucky, claimed that he sometimes goes to bed “starving” despite meal plans being included in athletic scholarships. After UConn won the national championship, Napier tried to steal the spotlight by claiming the NCAA had no right to ban the Huskies from tournament play for poor academic performance. Because, you know, who cares about academics in college?

Now, anyone who follows me on social media, especially Facebook, knows that my political and social opinions do lean to the left. So it may surprise many to hear my position on this. Why would I be against such a progressive movement?

Because this is an example of the demands of the few imperiling the needs of the many.

To hear all the sanctimonious people in the media, one would think that the athletics department at every single Division I university is a money printing machine, churning out millions of dollars to help fund the gluttonous salaries of the coaches and other administrators.

This is as far from the truth as can be. Despite the huge numbers ESPN and other networks put up on how much money the NCAA makes (most of it paid out by organizations like ESPN), the number of colleges making millions of dollars remains in the great minority. For every Texas or Ohio State or Kentucky, there are a dozen UTAs out there that struggle to just make their athletic budgets. They don’t pack the house every night. They don’t have some huge TV deal. And might actually – horror of horrors – have athletes that actually GO TO CLASS.

Many of these colleges benefit greatly from the NCAA’s revenue, and the student athletes benefit most of all. The NCAA states that 96 percent of its annual revenue goes back to its member schools – 60 percent of it to Division I participants.

And if athletes like these Northwestern members succeed in forcing universities to pay their athletes, all these other universities will be forced to completely shut down all their athletic programs. The line in the sand will be drawn” If you can’t afford to fully pay all your athletes like employees, you don’t deserve to have athletics at all.

For now, the Northwestern athletes are claiming they are not out to demand that athletes be paid full salaries/stipends, just improved benefits. Of course they are going to say this – they’re avoiding the one most polarizing aspect and trying to look like the little guy fighting the good fight until they successfully get their feet dug in, and THEN they make the big demands. Note that included in their demands is the option to be able to demand pay at some time later.

There seems little doubt that demanding some form of full salary or stipend for all athletes will be coming down the line. Note that while the Northwestern athletes are currently saying they still view themselves as students and not employees, the NLRB though the opposite in making its approval of a union.

And if they ultimately want all athletes to be fully compensated, there is really only one way they can ultimately do that: All “unionized” teams will refuse to play against schools that don’t have union athletes – the “scabs,” though they may try to find a more PC term for them – forcing the hand of the coaches as to who they get to schedule. Therein will lie the key to driving the programs that can’t pay their athletes out of operation.

This of course, is a worst-case doomsday scenario I am presenting. But the best-case scenario would still be the breakup of Division I into schools that can afford to pay athletes and those that can’t. If that happens, you can still kiss things like the NCAA Tournament in its current form goodbye. No more seeing the likes of Butler or Virginia Commonwealth or George Mason making an improbable run to the Final Four, since they will all be booted down to a lesser subdivision, unable to compete in the same tournament as Florida or Duke or UCLA. The schools that actually want STUDENT-athletes will be kicked to the curb in D1.

And that should also eventually lead to the downfall of those programs, because the chance of playing in the big tournament is often the one motivation the alumni base and other boosters have to support their programs. Take that away, and you’ll be lucky to get support better than a Division II program.

Nothing is set in stone here. The NCAA is appealing this decision, and appeals will likely take years. Even still, one of the keys to the NLRB’s decision was that Northwestern is a private college, meaning state universities are a whole other situation.

But those who love college sports can only hope that in the years this fight will take, cooler heads will ultimately prevail.

Most college student athletes in the more than 320 Division I schools are good people. They go to class. They have aspirations that go beyond playing professionally, as more than 99 percent of them will not be doing so.

And now their opportunities to use their athletic talents to get an education and develop as people is under serious threat.

All because a bunch of spoiled, greedy athletes are putting their own short-term self interests ahead of so many others.

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