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Take 2: Jon Styf and columnist Tom Musick face off about the effort to unionize college players

Published: Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 11:48 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 11:51 p.m. CDT

Northwestern Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter is leading an effort to unionize college football and basketball players. Sports editor Jon Styf and columnist Tom Musick discuss:

Musick: Kain Colter isn’t much of an NFL prospect. At least, I don’t think he is. But I think a good chance exists that 10 or 20 years from now, we’ll remember Colter for his effect on football a lot sooner than we’ll remember most of the top 10 players in this year’s draft.

Styf:I think you might be overplaying it a little. The courts already said that college athletes aren’t employees, so that would actually have to be overturned before anyone was allowed to unionize. I see this as more of a step in a long process which, like finding a perfect college football playoff system, won’t happen anytime soon.

Musick:I think the Northwestern group has a good chance of winning at the federal level. Decisions can be tough to predict, and nothing is guaranteed, but graduate assistants have been recognized as union employees for some time now. The same should be true for college athletes. They’re students, yes, but they’re also employees who are doing a job for the university.

Styf: The thing that bothers me about this whole discussion is when people say that it’s about the free schooling, and that should be enough payment. The problem with that is that these are not normal students and they aren’t getting a normal education. In general, football players are told what to major in and when they can take classes. They are also told, many times, what classes to take. They get the education the football team wants them to get, not the education they want.

Musick: Right, and when you factor in all of the hours the athletes devote to practice, training, traveling, and so on, it easily has to be a 40-hour work week. I don’t have all of the answers, and I don’t know the perfect solution here, but I think a good place to start is by the NCAA increasing medical coverage, doing a better job of preventing schools from removing scholarships, and giving athletes more input on rules regarding full-contact practices.

Styf: The total unequal playing field with successful coaches getting huge contracts (state university football or basketball coaches are the top earning state employee in 40 states) but having to show no allegiance while the players get a meager food/book/rooming/tuition stipend is the issue. It’s big business, and the universities are the ones gaining from it while the NCAA tries to shove this “student-athlete” thing down our throats. People really need to stop saying “student-athlete.” Local high schools say it trying to be cute, but the reality is that term was created to take away rights just like this from college athletes. It should cease to exist.

Musick:Which is why I’ll be rooting for Colter and his old Wildcats teammates to win this battle, even if it takes several years or longer. The NCAA could have made this easier on itself by allowing athletes to have more of a voice in its decision-making process, but instead it continues to act like a schoolyard bully. Hopefully, its arrogance proves costly. The more that athletes speak out (by the way, kudos to Johnsburg grad C.J. Fiedorowicz), the more their cause might gain traction.

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