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Wisch: What If College Athletes Went On ‘Strike?’

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Dave Wischnowsky Dave Wischnowsky
Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred...
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By Dave Wischnowsky–

CHICAGO (CBS) The NFL is embroiled in a lockout. And its players are ticked. The NBA might be headed toward a lockout. And its players will be ticked. The NCAA, meanwhile, is not headed toward a lockout.

After all, it doesn’t pay its players.

But will that finally get them ticked?

A friend of mine thinks that it will. In a major way.

“I’m telling you, they’re going to walk out,” my buddy Josh texted me last week, continuing our weeks-long discourse about whether the current labor strife in pro sports could eventually trickle down, prompting college athletes to go “on strike” and demand financial compensation from the NCAA for their services.

“The OSU thing,” Josh stressed in his text, “is another example of being oppressed.”

The “OSU thing,” of course, is the scandal that last Monday led Ohio State University football coach Jim Tressel to tender his resignation, months after it was revealed that he had discovered his players had been trading memorabilia and autographs for tattoos – a violation of NCAA rules – and didn’t tell his bosses about it.

Now, I’m not at all defending Tressel or any of his Buckeyes here today. The players broke clear (although, I’d say, flawed) NCAA rules. And Tressel cheated when he knowingly allowed those players to take the field and play for OSU. Then he lied about it, got caught, lied about it again, got caught again and ultimately lost his job.

Tressel got exactly what deserved and has no one to blame but himself.

But I do agree with my friend that college athletes are, to a certain extent, being “oppressed” in regards to their inability to capitalize from their own names and likenesses. And the NCAA needs to do something about it – before something crazy happens, like a “strike.”

Last month in an opinion piece entitled, “Greedy NCAA still exploiting athletes,” FoxSports.com columnist Jason Whitlock took up arms for the nation’s college football and basketball players.

He wrote, “Because of technological advances, video games, online shopping and the explosion of sports-related TV programming, NCAA schools now collectively derive billions rather than millions from college football and basketball.

“John Wooden earned around $35,000 a year coaching UCLA. The best coaches today earn $4 million-$5 million a year. Have the benefits to the athletes escalated at the same rate?”

Whitlock then went on to say, “Amateurism is an outdated concept. It was blown up by television and its money 35 years ago … Smart people need to figure out a way to financially compensate the football and basketball players who generate the cash.”

To that point, I agree. However, I am not in favor of paying college athletes outright. I think that would up a can of worms I remain uncomfortable with, and I do still view players’ educations – worth tens of thousands of dollars – as considerable compensation.

Rather, what I’m in favor of is the NCAA dumping this old-fashioned notion of amateurism that it clings to and that it instead adopt the “Olympic model” where it would allow college athletes – from male quarterbacks to female swimmers and anyone in between – to sign endorsement deals with outside companies if they are so offered to the students.

That, I think, could (and should) be the NCAA’s solution to its compensation problem. But let’s get back to the potential issue that I initially posed: Could college athletes actually go on “strike?”

In this age of social networking, it’s not inconceivable to envision a scenario in which a small group of players angry that their university is, say, selling their jerseys for $75 a pop but giving them no cut of the sale, could organize a massive walkout at multiple college campuses by using online tools such as Facebook or Twitter.

I think, however, that for many reasons such an organized, wide-scale “strike” is highly unlikely.

But a small-scale one?

Well, that might be a different story.

Imagine, for example, if this past spring the starting five at UConn – or just two or three of them – decided that they deserved paychecks for the performances. And, as a sign of protest, they opted to not show up for the national championship game against Butler?

Or what if the entire offense at Auburn had opted to go AWOL for the BCS Championship back in February? Or if this fall, Ohio State’s eligible starters – angry over Tressel’s ouster and their inability to make a buck off their own names – all decided to join the suspended Terrelle Pryor on the sidelines for the season’s first five games?

Any such scenario would devalue the NCAA’s product immensely and land a whale of a haymaker to its national image. And, while perhaps unlikely – Josh says others keep telling him they think “he’s crazy” – none of those examples is so far-fetched that it’s impossible to see them happening at some point in the future.

In his column back in April, Whitlock wrote this about college athletics: “The system is broken. No one believes in the integrity of the NCAA rule book. Most fair-minded people don’t believe the athletes are getting a fair shake …

“Title IX is not a legitimate excuse to maintain the status quo. This is America. The people who produce the profits are supposed to benefit from those profits.”

In college sports, a storm is swirling. That much is clear. But if the NCAA doesn’t soon find a way to better batten its hatches, that storm is liable to become a hurricane.

And who knows what kind of trouble that might blow in.

Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.

davewisch Wisch: What If College Athletes Went On Strike?

Dave Wischnowsky

If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.

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