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Snap Poll: College athletes not employees, most say

Rochester Business Journal
April 4, 2014

Nearly three-quarters of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll say college athletes who receive scholarships should not be considered employees of their schools.

A National Labor Relations Board regional director ruled last week that a group of Northwestern University scholarship football players are school employees and thus have the right to form a union and bargain collectively. While the ruling pertains only to Northwestern, it has potentially broad implications for collegiate sports at private universities and for the NCAA, which was not a party to the proceeding.

Northwestern maintains the football players are primarily students, but regional NLRB director Peter Ohr disagreed. He cited a number of factors, including that the university’s 85 scholarship players spend more time on football than on their studies, as well as their typical annual grant-in-aid of $61,000, which he deemed compensation.

The NCAA, which has long held that collegiate athletes are students first, responded by saying “we strongly disagree with the notion that student-athletes are employees.” Northwestern plans to appeal the decision to the full National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C., while exploring all of its legal options.

Nearly 625 readers participated in this week’s poll, conducted March 31 and April 1.

In your view, should college athletes who receive scholarships be considered employees of their school?
Yes 24% 
No  76%

As a mother of three—with one now graduated and working, and the next two in college—all three have assumed primary responsibility for their education. One played golf for his college and received no assistance. The fact that these NCAA players receive a paid education is enough. If pay is added to that benefit, that expense will be added to the backs of the non-athletes and their parents. These students also contribute to the campus life through their own leadership and participation. Too much emphasis on sports; more on education. It is their education that will still be valuable long after the last game.
—Mary Loewenguth

To be clear, they are student athletes. Students first, then athletes. No, they are not employees and should not be paid.
—Cathy Ames, Fairport

I don’t think student-athletes should be considered “employees” of the school, but (it’s) hard to ignore the money that is generated from NCAA sports. Only about 1 percent to 3 percent of college athletes play professional sports after college. At this point, scholarship players are given tuition, room and board, food, clothes and other benefits. If they start getting paid like a regular employee, they have to learn some tax law (filing taxes) and how to manage their paycheck and living expenses. More complicated contracts also come into play in regard to behavior, injuries, performance and training. Would academics matter anymore? That is what should really concern everyone.
—Keith Newcomer

Parents send offspring to college to be educated to become useful citizens (who pay taxes). A school’s primary responsibility is to fulfill that purpose. Everything else is either a plus or a distraction, but students should not be considered school employees. Enough already with these moneymaking schemes!
—J.A. DePaolis, Penfield

This question fails to make the distinction between the enormously profitable football and basketball programs at high-profile schools and the lower-profile sports and smaller schools that still offer scholarships but do not make the same demands on their student-athletes (nor rake in the money for the school). Thus, I voted “no,” even though I think there’s an argument to be made for the top level of programs. Let’s face it—even at, say, Northwestern, no one is suggesting that the swim team be treated as employees of the school.
—Matthew D. Wilson

If student athletes who receive scholarships are considered employees, then the value of their scholarships should be considered income and taxed accordingly.
—Milt Kotin

They are clearly putting themselves on the line for institutions that earn millions by virtue of their performance. If they are injured, they may never get a chance to go pro. I think that they should be treated as employees, as are members of minor league baseball teams and members of the Rochester Americans. But are they willing to pay taxes on their “compensation”—their tuition? There’s the rub.
—John Calia, Vistage International

Big-time college football is a big business. Time to stop the sham of the “student athlete.”
—C. Lewis, Perinton

Absolutely ridiculous. Go to school, play your sport, and shut up. Be fortunate you even get compensated. Take away all the compensation, and problem solved. Our society of entitlement is getting way out of hand and will only get worse when these kinds of issues are even entertained.
—Doug Strang

This will serve no purpose other than to open a can of worms for all other types of scholarships. If this goes through, it will only be a matter of time before all scholarship recipients, whether sport, academic or any other class of aid recipient, are paying unions dues. Shame on the NLRB for headline hunting.
—Michael Lawrence

The problem is the NCAA and the very high-priced athletic departments at the “jock” schools. Academics and athletics are totally disjointed. By paying these athletes under the guise of athletic scholarships, primarily to play sports, they are not students but essentially professional athletic teams sponsored by the schools. To pretend they are students is a farce and disgrace to the integrity of the schools and the people responsible for governance and administration.
—Jim Weisbeck, Bloomfield

I don’t know if they should necessarily be recognized as employees, but something needs to change. These kids are heavily recruited to fill positions (jobs?) on a roster so that these schools can profit through their sports programs. The purported education and support they otherwise receive is not a fair deal. Most of these athletes do not move on to a paid professional level, and after their college experience have limited education, no athletic career, and essentially need to start over. Many will fall through the cracks and be forgotten, or become the responsibility of the state. Seems like a broken system to me.
—David Gottfried

I do not agree with the National Labor Relations Board finding in this case, but I do believe that the athletes deserve some kind of a stipend above and beyond their scholarships. The average student can work a part-time job or accept money from others to provide “pocket money” on a day-to-day basis. Because of NCAA rules, these are options not available for the athletes (many from economically disadvantaged backgrounds) who are generating millions in revenues for their respective institutions.
—Arnie Boldt, managing partner, Arnold-Smith Associates

Regardless of scholarships, if the school sells tickets to see their games, they should be considered employees.
—David Rubin

Colleges are for teaching, so that their students leave with a finished education. For those who only want to play, form a separate, professional league. No education.
—Ingo H. Leubner, Crystallization Consulting

I think student athletes in schools making more than $5 million a year from athletic events should be compensated with tuition, room and board, and health care. Some consideration might be given to offering tuition benefits after college for advanced degrees as well, and possible health care insurance after college. I would not turn student athletes into employees, however. I think that would distort the mission and purpose of college and college sports.
—Carolyn Phinney Rankin, president, Phinney Rankin Inc.

Why only football scholarship students? Why not basketball and other scholarship students? These football players get a typical annual grant of $61,000 already. That’s higher than the average U.S. citizen makes. A few lucky players from Northwestern will make it to the NFL, but most will not. Much of the money from the two profitable sports—football and basketball—goes to subsidize all the other non-profitable sports. I agree with Northwestern and the NCAA that the football players are primarily students. They can flunk out of school, become academically ineligible or have career-ending injuries.
—Clifford Jacobson M.D., Vanguard Psychiatric Services P.C.

Since only football and basketball make money for some schools, it makes no sense to say that all athletes are employees. So which ones are employees? Just the athletes on scholarship? Just the ones in profitable sports? What if a sport is profitable one year and not the next? If scholarship athletes are employees, do they pay tax on the value of their scholarship? If the football players are in a separate category, can a school reduce the number of scholarships for women athletes by the number of football scholarships? If athletes are employees, why not other scholarship students who work on research that is paid for by government and industry? Bottom line: The system we have now works pretty well for everyone involved. Nobody is forced to participate. If an athlete is not happy with the arrangement, (that person) can do something else.
—Dennis Ditch, Delta Square Inc.

This is a tough one. If my school has their own “NFL” team, there is no way I’d contribute to the alumni fund. I’d feel I was subsidizing football salaries! On the other hand, football is such a violent sport that players get seriously injured far, far too often. Perhaps colleges and universities should end these programs and instead, switch to the most popular game in the world: “football,” or as we call it, soccer.
—Jerry Lighthouse, Advanced Purchasing Technology LLC

I wonder how many of these “employees” reported their scholarships as income on their tax returns and paid Social Security and Medicare taxes, as well.
—Harry Caruso, Caruso Asset Management

They should be thankful for the opportunity and free ride provided, that the university they are attending places learning and gaining a job upon graduation of greater importance. Should be managed by having to maintain a GPA level or lose the athletic scholarship. Plus, no red-shirt years.
—Dave Rusin

I think this is a stupid path to go down. No, students shouldn’t be paid athletes. In fact, if they leave school early to pursue a professional sports career, or if they don’t graduate for any other reason, they should pay back the scholarship they were awarded. This world if full of too much me, me, me, I, I, I!! Where is the gratitude for being allowed to attend college for free? Would this policy lead to unionizing (I may have started something here) and paying science students for working on government projects, or agriculture students for developing some new seeds or medical students for discovering a cure? It should make the hair on the back of your neck stand when the "National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C." is involved with anything at all. It sounds like a department of the Kremlin with pretty much the same philosophy. Unions are.......check out how much you pay in taxes and think about why. Anywhere there's a union, someone else's money pays the tab. The union's complaint is that the colleges are making money generated by the student athletes. The colleges created the system, infrastructure and environment for education and athletics so that young people could build their foundation for the future. The union's only participation is to create a revenue stream in the form of dues and fees to be milked from the students. Kind of hypocritical, don't you think? In the end, the unions are the only entity that has absolutely no contribution whatsoever, but want a "piece of the action". The next target will be to unionize all of the "A" students because they'll be able to make more money when they graduate. Then the failing students will need to be unionized so they could get the jobs the "A" students are worthy of, in the spirit of "fair employment distribution". I think if the student athlete wants to earn money, get a job. If his skills and talents earn him a scholarship, be thankful. If he lands a pro career after school, well, it's like winning the lotto! The colleges provide: world class facilities both academically and athletically. Professors, education, libraries, research labs, coaches, trainers, nutritionists, sports doctors, scheduling, tutors, and all around pampering of student athletes. The students provide: Skills and talents that highlight and promote their school. Filled to capacity stadiums that generate revenue to pay staff and build infrastructure. The union provides: Organization, legal representation, and dues schedule. Shame on the unions for exploiting students.
—Lou Romano

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