Thursday, January 30, 2014

Picket Line at the Study Hall

Bloomberg writer Jonathon Mahler offers a little analysis about Wednesday's filing by some college football players to form a union in order to guarantee some health benefits and a share of the enormous profits colleges, coaches, and the NCAA rake in from their sweat, blood and sometimes bone.

The good that labor unions have brought to the modern world is undeniable. Also undeniable is that a number of those unions are today led by people who have their own agendas and pocketbooks and who are more interested in those than the rank and file membership of their organizations. So I'm of mixed emotions about this idea. And of course I'm also torn because the lawsuit was filed by those Paragons of Virtue, Nobility, Being Nice to That Budweiser Clydesdale Ad Puppy and Defenders of the World Against Illini Communism, the Northwestern University Wildcats.

On the one hand, as my opening paragraph might lead you to surmise, I believe that the convenient fiction of the "student-athlete" is in many cases a shrinking fig leaf that colleges use to get out of paying their players a fair share of the money they make for the college at which they are enrolled. On the other hand, a collegiate player's union would, I believe, be swiftly co-opted by some of the same operators who use their membership's woes and desires to line their own pockets. Being exploited from a home office instead of the dean's office is not much of a good trade.

Mahler makes a good point that the establishment of a union might halt the fig-leaf shrinkage or at least slow it down. The NCAA might be able to engage in a controlled demolition of their mendacious model instead of the outright obliteration that will probably come someday from some judge's ruling. The thing about a controlled demolition is that you can sometimes shape what comes after the current structure is down, and maybe even use some of the old material.

But I think he also makes a good point that no one has ever accused the association of foresight and that they will probably keep fighting until their entire system crashes around their ears and they're forced to build a new one according to a court order -- which they will neither write nor be able to ignore.

It's kind of the way things usually go with the NCAA, though. They're a pretty good example that not everything with the word "collegiate" in its name is run by smart people.

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