In College Athletics, Dealmaking Could Be a Win-Win

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A recent ruling by a regional branch of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) raises the question of whether college football and basketball players will engage in the kind of collective dealmaking with university administrations that is found in business and government.

In March, the NLRB in Chicago sided in favor of a group called the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA), which had petitioned for Northwestern University’s scholarship football players to be allowed to unionize as employees. The regional NLRB director, Peter Ohr, ruled that Northwestern’s players should be considered employees rather than students because of the amount of time they devoted to team activities and the fact that coaches control their scholarships.

Northwestern and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) plan to appeal the decision to the NLRB in Washington. The case could eventually reach the federal courts and even the Supreme Court.

At many U.S. universities, football and basketball programs generate millions in revenues and donations that universities spend on stadiums, athletic centers, and coach salaries, in addition to less lucrative sports, scholarships, and other school programs. The college football playoffs have secured a television contract worth $7 billion over 10 years, and the March Madness college basketball playoffs generate $800 million annually for the NCAA.

Players are widely credited with boosting these profits, and some critics say they deserve a piece of the pie, other than their scholarship money.

Though some observers have speculated that the ruling could spell the end of the NCAA as it currently exists, the ruling currently applies only to scholarship football players at one private university, write Steve Eder and Ben Strauss in the New York Times. If football and basketball programs begin to unionize, it will not be for at least several years. But we can for the moment speculate about what future labor negotiations in college athletics would look like.

Following the model of unionized leagues such as the National Football League and the National Basketball Association, the stakeholders—the players, the athletic conferences, and the NCAA—might agree to salary parameters that set ranges for how much teams would pay their players. Rules might be set for a process of free agency, drafts, and performance bonuses, writes the New York Times.

Other issues unique to the college environment could be up for negotiation as well. The CAPA has developed a long wish list of potential negotiation issues: medical coverage for players, measures to reduce concussion risks, increases in scholarships, the possibility of paid sponsorships for players, measures to improve graduation rates, and an improved process for handling accusations of rule violations.

Universities and the NCAA can be expected to push back against continued efforts to unionize college sports. But if a new conception of elite college athletes as employees eventually takes hold, the number of issues at stake suggests that the negotiations would be complex and multi-faceted—and thus ripe for the type of dealmaking that could allow all parties involved to declare victory.

Related Article: Dealmaking – Second Guessing the Terms of the Deal


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One Response to “In College Athletics, Dealmaking Could Be a Win-Win”

  • Richard L.

    Kate Shonk – Dealmaking. This article is so shallow as to be meaningless to me. Is win-win a negotiation strategy or a throwaway headline. Win-win is suppose to be good, right? Well that is another issues for another day. But even if it were this article does nothing. No absolutely nothing to suggest how such win-win outcomes
    might be possible. Sure the article intimates that people who get paid to help others negotiate (win-win outcomes?) may find this a new lucrative field of employment. As for the rest of this article it is pure fluff. I have no love of the
    NCAA and they the way they run student athletes lives but that is because they are incompetent. They lose documents then admit to that fact in then insist on
    replacements by the student who is from that moment on suspension from his/her team. One can’t negotiate with them. Adding the demands of Unions (collective bargaining processes) to this equation situation sounds like a “fun” thing to do and sure it will possibly lead to win-win outcomes but the winners here will not be students. This is a complex issue that needs a simple approach – leave it as it is if you can’t make it definitively better. On the surface this proposal appears to be about
    money but it is really about power. Bringing Unions onto campus playing fields will be a bad outcome for students even if some of them do get an extra pair of gym shoes
    in the process. PS Good negotiation is not dealmaking it is a process wherein both
    sides know what they need and get those needs met. Usually this is done by each side giving up things on their long ‘wants’ list. Kids being paid to play sport at College is it seems on Harvard’s ‘wants’ list. Cheers, Richard.


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