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Student Athletes Are Right to Demand a Voice, But Unions Should Be a Last Resort

04/07/2014 11:15 am ET | Updated Jun 07, 2014
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Recently NCAA college basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb tweeted: "There are exactly zero college football players who spend 60 hours a week on football, unless you count video games."

Now, considering Doug never played college football, I'm not sure exactly where he gets his information. I was one of these athletes who spent countless hours on football while playing at the University of Missouri. Was it 60 hours per week? No, certainly not every week. But did I ever spend 60 hours in a week on football? Absolutely, and more than just a few.

Doug's tweet was a response to Northwestern football player Kain Colter's claim that he and many of his teammates spent between 40 and 60 hours per week on football-related activities as student athletes. That was all discussed in court while Kain was convincing a judge that student athletes should be allowed to form a union and be considered employees of the University. Kain won that battle, at least so far. This case is destined to be appealed many times over and might eventually reach the Supreme Court, likely years from now.

As a former student athlete myself, who graduated just last year, I began to consider how I would have reacted to the possibility of a union while I was in school. Is it a smart move? How would a union affect student athletes? Sure, there's a chance it could work out wonderfully and get the student athletes exactly what they want. But what if it doesn't? Could it blow up in our face?

Do we really want to be considered employees? What if we start firing 18-year-old athletes because they dropped four passes in the game Saturday? What happens if there is a strike? Would I have to miss a year of football and be on the hook for tuition? What if the NCAA has a lockout? Would I be locked out of my classrooms along with the athletic buildings? What about my scholarship? Is there even a need for a scholarship if I am being paid a salary as an employee? And if I'm getting paid a salary, I'd have to pay taxes, wouldn't I? And how are the universities going to afford this? Are they going to start cutting other non-revenue sports? What about Title IX? It wouldn't be fair to pay the guys and not the girls.

That was the series of thoughts that crossed my mind immediately following the ruling to classify student athletes as employees last week, Now, I think the ruling itself is a huge win for student athletes. I absolutely think they should have to right to form a union. It finally gives them some leverage against the NCAA. But is it smart in the long run? I don't think so. I think forming a union needs to be a last resort.

There are so many complications with forming a union that could potentially ruin college athletics as we know it. No one wants to see a strike in the middle of the Sweet 16 or a lockout before the start of football season. No one wants to see colleges cut half of the athletic department because most sports are showing a loss on their profit-loss statements. Neither side wants to pay taxes on possible salaries. (Right now, scholarships are grants by the government, so no tax is required.)

If the athletes form a union, I think everyone loses, including the fans. But is there another way? I think so.

I think the legalization of a union should scare the NCAA enough to finally come to the table. Student athletes want their voice heard -- and until now, the NCAA had no reason to listen. Now they do. With the threat of a possible union, I think it's finally time to come to the table and make an agreement. Make some changes. I don't have all the solutions, but I do know that change is coming. The writing is on the wall. Student athletes are getting smarter and realizing they deserve more than what they're getting. They're finally taking action. If the NCAA is smart, they'll come to the table and do whatever it takes to avoid a union. If they're not smart, it could be the end of college athletics as we know it. Your move, NCAA.