Unsportsmanlike conduct

Unionizing college athletes violates the core principles of school sports

There are plenty of sports halls of fame.

Is there a Wretched Ideas Hall of Fame? If there is, we have a shoo-in candidate.

Collegiate athletics as we know it will be destroyed if this week’s ruling by the National Labor Relations Board is allowed to stand.

The NLRB ruled football players at Northwestern University are “employees” of the school and, as such, can form a union.

It essentially turns amateurs into professionals. It takes the “student” out of student athlete. And it adds layers of cynicism and combativeness to something that Americans primarily admire for its relative purity.

What’s next? Are college athletes going to strike for higher wages? Are they going to pay dues to the nearest Teamsters local? Will contracts for football and basketball teams be different from, say, the tennis and swim teams? Are politicians going to cozy up to them as the newest voter bloc?

These are likely issues Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter didn’t consider when he started the drive to organize his teammates.

“It’s a huge step on our journey to gaining basic protections and basic rights,” he said of the ruling.

Basic protections and rights? We were unaware college athletes were so badly exploited, what with the free tuition, room and board, academic counseling and health care they receive for playing a game they enjoy,

Isn’t their primary “job” in college to get an education? Shouldn’t they be fortunate for the opportunity, as many would never get such a chance on academic merit alone?

Fortunately Wednesday’s preliminary ruling has zero immediate effect. Northwestern can appeal, and the ruling only affects players at private schools because the NLRB has no power over state-run institutions. The full NLRB will have to rule as well. And there will likely be more legal appeals by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Still, the ruling is sure to have a chilling effect on the future of student athleticism. Are high school students going to hire sports agents to help them negotiate the “best deal” from the nation’s colleges? Will smaller universities have to shutter their sports programs entirely because they can’t compete with big-money programs?

If young athletes only want to be paid, they should skip college and offer themselves to professional teams on the open market.

There’s a place for amateurs and a place for professionals. Mixing the two diminishes the value of education and takes the fun out of college sports.

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