Tusk to Tail not cool with college football union; have low hopes for 2014

The consensus from a group of Razorback football tailgaters who have followed the team through thick and thin for more than a decade – logging more than 9,000 miles in 2013 – is that college football players should not be allowed to form a union.

As to expectations for the 2014 Razorback football season, well, the consensus is not one of optimism.

The issue of a union for college football players emerged from a late March decision related to a push by players from Northwestern University. Kain Colter, a former quarterback for Northwestern, has been the signal caller for an effort to allow players at the Chicago-based university to unionize and potentially share in the growing revenue pie. His argument is relatively simple: College football is nothing more than a commercial enterprise that garners millions of dollars – if not billions – for many university programs around the country, and the players are essentially the labor for the programs.

Peter Sung Ohr, a regional director with the National Labor Relations Board based in Chicago, agreed with Colter and his attorneys in a 24-page document released March 26. The ruling applies directly to Northwestern, but has obvious reach for all college athletic programs. Also, the ruling will be subject to a review by the full NLRB in Washington, D.C., and could also face action in the federal court system. Wednesday’s ruling in no way immediately changes the relationship between college athlete and the university.

The Tusk to Tail crew were asked three questions about the issue and the Razorbacks.
• Why do you agree or disagree with the initial NLRB ruling that the football players at Northwestern should be considered employees and be allowed to form a union?

• Do you think the ruling, regardless of if it stands, will force the NCAA to consider changes to how college athletes are compensated? If so, what could some of those changes include?

• The more you know about the Razorback football squad, what do you predict will be their season record and their SEC record.

Following are the responses.
• Sean Casey
1. I am not sure that I agree that student scholarships, athletic or otherwise, should be deemed as employees or that the students truly want to be considered as such.

Per Northwestern’s website, tuition for the 2013-2014 academic year is $45,120, which is not including costs of room and board. This should illustrate that an athletic scholarship certainly has an economic value, particularly at a private university like Northwestern. Also consider the fact that private universities are an easier target since state schools will be governed by state law. If the athletes unionize and insist on being employees will they lose their scholarships and become paid employees who are responsible for their tuition, housing, meals, taxes, etc??? What impact does this have on walk-on athletes? Do they get a salary even if they weren’t receiving a scholarship? What impact does this have on non-revenue generating sports? What impact will this have on other types of scholarships?

If the union issue is truly about safety and medical treatment, is this the best method of going about the solution? Football safety isn’t just a collegiate issue but one that permeates every level of football and they game will have to evolve or people will direct their sons to other sports. Unionization could be the harbinger of farm systems for the NFL and NBA.

I do think that this ruling is making not just the NCAA but all colleges consider the employment issue. Does it persuade conferences or colleges to move toward an Ivy League format where they don’t have athletic scholarships? I doubt it because of the revenue involved, but I find it an interesting notion.

I suspect next year the Razorbacks will only have 4 or 5 wins, 3 of which are out of conference. Some improvement, but still another disappointing season.

• Jack Clark
1. I think that all the players should be compensated. I also think that the players should have some sort of long-term disability insurance. I think the NCAA should pay for this.

2. I also think that the NCAA should be completely disbanded. Let's stop lying to ourselves by suggesting the college football is an amateur sport anymore. This is real money now. I've reached my breaking point on seeing football coaches make $4 or $5 million a year and college students get a $500 a semester laundry ticket.

How about pay the players to play football but also let them pay for their own education and books and room and board? It seems to me that we could develop life skills earlier in life for these players if they had to learn to pay their own bills at age 18.

3. Hogs will go 2-6 in conference and finish 5-7.

• Dale Cullins
1. I disagree; they are being compensated for their time. It is voluntary. They don't have to play if they don't like the arrangement. I don't mind giving them an amount that allows them to live each month, but it should not be excessive. Maybe even give them a cut of jersey sales or anything else that has their likeness on it.

2. I hope it will be struck down by a higher court. I think it will ultimately affect the compensation for big time athletics and will lead to the rise of a super conference, which will be the top 65 teams or so. They will play each other and take care of the athletes better in those conferences and lead to the death of the football programs in the smaller conferences. Those teams rely upon games against the larger schools to help them fund their programs. Without that they dry up. Though there is a small chance that ESPN could keep them afloat for weeknight TV games.

3. Still too early. We need to get all of the new freshmen on campus, but honestly, could it get much worse? I'll say 6-6.

• Greg Houser
1. To be honest, I haven't given a lot of thought to the question of compensating players and unionizing the college ranks. The one question I have for the college players to ponder is this. "Are you prepared to pay taxes and pay your share?"

Admittedly so, the Universities and specifically the NCAA make a lot of money off of college kids. The vast majority of them will never see financial fruition in the profession of their sport. I do not disagree that they are entitled to fruits of their labor. However, if they pursue this road, they should adhere to what all adults have to endure. Filing the proper paperwork to unionize, paying union dues, filing the proper paperwork and being prepared to pay their taxes on monies earned is something the vast majority of athletes are not prepared to do. I assume, most would prefer the system they have.

2. Increase the stipends, or provide better eating, clothing, entertainment arrangements for athletes so that the need for money will be drastically reduced. Allow college athletes to enjoy a college life the same as any student that makes money from a part time job. While most of those college kids get money back, they still participate in the system. Besides what are the two certain things in life every college kid needs to know … Death & Taxes.

3. Embrace the suck my friends

• Craig May
1. These kids are student athletes; they should not be allowed to form a union. The players on football team at Northwestern are given $61,000 per year in scholarship benefits in exchange for playing football and get the opportunity to put their skill on display for NFL team across the country. The free education and exposure more than compensates these athletes during their time in college.

2. The NLRB ruling does nothing to address the real question of what to do about the fact that in some instances universities make a profit their student athletes. Instead of paying the players to play and allowing them to form a union how about giving them a stipend or giving them the money they can generate from their own autographs or likeness. Both sides are going to have to find a middle ground on this issue, but I think it’s important these kids remain student athletes. If I want to watch football players who are paid to play the game I can turn on the TV on Sunday afternoon.

3. I think you are going to see some improvement in the Razorbacks this fall, not sure it is going to translate into more wins but at least at this point the foundation is in place and we seem to be moving forward. I expect them to go 6-6 next season, 4-0 in non-conference and 2-6 in the SEC.

• David Rice
1. There is no question schools are making money off its star athletes. And though the NCAA appears to be losing the ability to prohibit some schools from compensating athletes under the table, thus allowing one of those schools to return to the BCS Championship a mere three years after blatantly buying their Heisman-winning quarterback, I don’t think unionizing is the answer.

2. The NCAA football factories have been making a lot of people a lot of money for a long time. There are entire committees that fly to football games every week just to see if they can find a team desperate enough to play in Shreveport or Detroit.

Compensating all the athletes would take away a mighty big chunk of that cheddar. Do you think the athletic powerhouses are willing to take a paycut? Jeff Long ought to slap you just for thinking that. So now the schools need to increase their income to offset the new payroll expense.

Tusk to Tail has never yielded, and we answered the call to continue buying tickets to Razorback games as the prices continue to go up. But based on the product on the field the past couple of years, I might just let it ring next time.

Which leads to my final point: I go to a lot of Razorback games, traveling over 9,000 miles last year alone to see them all, including the ones where AJ Derby looked like he was throwing a wet Nerf ball. So while the star athletes say that the fans wouldn’t show up if not for them, I think Tusk to Tail has proven we’ll be there even if the biggest star is the team’s center.

Will we be any better this year?  I think so, but I haven’t heard enough this spring to believe we’re any better than a trip to Shreveport.

• Mark Wagner
1. I disagree with the initial NLRB ruling that the athletes should be considered employees.  I'm not an attorney and don't pretend to know all the nuances of labor law, but I think it opens up the athletes to an entirely new set of issues. The new benefits will probably be taxable, since they are considered employees, would other benefits they currently receive now be considered to be compensation? There is a monetary value associated with medical care, meals, travel, and yes, they would be deductible expenses, but not dollar for dollar. So now will the athletes have a greater financial burden because of this new rule?

2. Of course it would force the NCAA to make changes. If the ruling stands, then you've opened Pandora’s box, and everything the NCAA has done to keep the playing field even and to keep schools from cheating to get an unfair advantage will change.

College athletics is meant to be amateur competition. I know that statement may not be reality, based upon your definition of amateur, but that is its purpose. I think smaller schools or schools that don't have the financial backing of the larger schools will be at even more of a disadvantage than they currently are.

Hey, if the value of a college education isn't worth it to an athlete, then let them go pro out of high school. For what it’s worth, I think this will be tied up in the courts for years to come, so I don't see it impacting the current landscape for years to come.

3. The Hogs will get to 6 wins this year and the SEC record will be 2-6