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

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Whitlock then went on to say, “Amateurism is an outdated concept.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.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    As a practical matter, this would need to be organized.
    There is no “one superstar” who could go on strike and cause an impact.
    As a practical matter, you might need a group of >25 D-1 jox to form the “class” in a class-action anti-trust suit.
    Practical problem, where do you get 25 guys to gamble on forfeiting their window of opportunity to become the “Curt Flood” of the NCAA [and how many current MLB players know who Curt Flood is and why they ought to be grateful to him].
    The other element key to a “strike” is whether the jox could gain the protection of the NLRB…..fundamental issue is whether they could gain a favorable ruling that defines them as “employees” under Section 2(3) of the NLRA.

    I think it is a loooooong shot because organizing these kids into an effective strike would take a leader with the knowledge of Marvin Miller but with blingy charisma, and who would be willing to do all this for a contingent fee (i.e. the award of attorney’s fees in an anti-trust suit).

    Very thought-provoking, Dave.

    • Dave's Friend Josh

      I completly disagree that one superstart won’t make a difference. What is OSU without Terrel Pryor? Was Charlie Ward important to Florida State? Notre Dame was already bad a few years ago, but if Brady Quinn didn’t show up they would have been absolutely horrible.

      Colleges don’t have the depth to allow for a great player to not show up.

      • Larry Horse's Arse

        So if Brady Quinn went on strike, it would have had an impact on D-1 football?
        If Cam Newton had gone on strike last September, we wouldn’t have had a D-1 football season?
        That’s what I meant…not the impact on a given team but the entire sport/season.

        Even when MJ “retired” to play Sox minor league baseball (closest example I can come up with to what a strike would have been like), the NBA went on.

        But if all the players go out…stars and walk-ons…that’s a strike.

      • Dave's Friend Josh

        I’m just saying that one player can certainly be material to a team. And when 100,000+ people show up to a game and buy t-shirts, one person could have a huge impact on one team and the NCAA.

        I’m sorry, I missed your original point.

      • Larry Horse's Arse

        no prob
        I can see that I was unclear in my posting

        your posts were all very insightful

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    I very much like, and agree with, the “Olympic” model you propose.

    Also, I’m sorry that I failed to proof-read my first post.
    That could/should have been clearer.

  • tom sharp

    Anyone that could “organize” that bunch of criminals and morons should run for President! Obviously this nitwit feels that full scholarships, free room and board worth at least $200,000 (and a lot more in some places like Northwestern) are not enough. The idiots at Ohio State could have waited until graduation for the tattoos, car deals, and “memorabilia sale.” They weren’t starving to death.

    • Murphs Upper-Lip

      Miss Bernsie’s blog and reading the posts by the majority of the regular poster’s. Don’t miss tom sharp, though, as that was confirmed today.

      As LHA mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the only regular/semi-regular blogger worth reading on a consistent basis is Wisch; keep up the good work.

      • Larry Horse's Arse

        Always good to see you posting M U-L.
        Yeah, I miss reading the posts on Bernsie’s blog.
        Many were insightful, some LOL funny.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Thanks, Lip. Appreciate it. Gonna be out in California for a wedding (not my own) and vacation next week, but besides that, hoping to be a little more regular than semi in the coming weeks/months.

  • Dave Wischnowsky

    Arse, I think the Olympic model is without a doubt the way to go. It makes perfect sense, and is by no means unreasonable. I really hope to see that come to pass.

  • Dave's Friend Josh

    The NCAA made it very clear that they don’t care about developing young men when they allowed the OSU’s fools to play in the Sugar Bowl and take their 5 game suspension against the non-conference patsies that they play and the early non-conference schedule. They made it loud and clear that they are there for one reason – to make them money and deliver a great product.

    Keep in mind that almost half of the “student athletes” don’t value the education at they receive because they don’t graduate. What is the average graduation rate? 55%? I have friends that played D1 football that had teammates that had all of their stuff packed in their vehicles so that they could drive home after their last game as a senior. They were there to play football. Not to graduate.

    • Dave's Friend Josh

      A compensation model has to encourage the proper behaviors. A coaches salary should be scaled based on their graduation rate. If you are supposed to make $1 million per year, and you graduate 60% of your seniors, than you make $600,000. A student athlete should be compensated if (take the Olympic model if you want to) if they graduate within 7 years of showing up on campus. AND, they should have to pay back the cost of their education if they declare themselves eligible for the pro’s and don’t graduate within 7 years.

      A compensation model could also encourage unethical behavior. e.g., if you need kids to graduate then you help them cheat. However, at least there would be a focus on education and you can monitor cheating (someone has to actually take the exams).

      • Dave's Friend Josh

        Also, do you really think that NBA wouldn’t take a star player because he didn’t show up to the final four? Who are you kidding! They will take anyone as long as they can shoot the rock.

      • Nickie Barron Misialek

        I agree 120%%%%%%

  • Nickie Barron Misialek

    the “compensation” qualification is a superb IDEA!!!

    • Dave's Friend Josh

      Nickie – your son plays small college football on a VERY successful team. How would he feel about all of this?

      I played small college football and I never cared about getting paid. The school wasn’t making any money, I had a lot of fun, and my coaches demanded that I got an education.

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