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Lowell Cohn: Labor board ruling favors private universities (w/video)

  • FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2013 file photo, Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter (2), wears APU for "All Players United" on wrist tape as he scores a touchdown during an NCAA college football game against Maine in Evanston, Ill. The decision to allow Northwestern football players to unionize raises an array of questions for college sports. Among them, state schools vs. public schools, powerhouse programs vs. smaller colleges. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

Remember this, the colleges and NCAA sell the players' images for profit, and sell replicas of their jerseys, and sell memorabilia and create video games. But if the players sell their own autographs, they can be kicked off the team in disgrace because they violated some purist code that never was pure.

The NLRB ruling injects honesty into this hypocritical system.

So far, the ruling applies only to Northwestern. And, of course, Northwestern will appeal the ruling. Has to. But let's deal with reality as it stands right now.

The NLRB ruling applies to Northwestern because Northwestern is a private institution. The NLRB could not rule on a public institution like, say, Michigan. The NLRB adjudicates issues only on private companies. It's just how the NLRB is set up. Please don't worry your head about that.

The Northwestern ruling certainly implies football players — and perhaps basketball players — at other private universities can unionize, can call themselves university employees, can share in the profits, can be the professionals they really are.

Do you see where this is going?

As things stand today, Stanford could pay its players. Cal could not pay its players. I am not making up this stuff.

Some blue-chip high school linebacker from Fresno gets accepted to Stanford and Cal and goes to his parents in all innocence and says, "Gee, Cal and Stanford are both great schools. I can't decide where to go."

At which point, Mom levels with Junior. "Knucklehead, they'll pay you at Stanford. They won't pay you at Cal. At Stanford, you can go on strike if you don't like the coach. If you are serious about football, attend Stanford."

The NLRB ruling would shake up just about every athletic conference in the nation. Take the Pac-12. Two private schools, that's it: Stanford and USC. They will become absolute powerhouses in football. The rest will fall way behind.


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