By Ryan Baker-
(CBS) Northwestern earned a PhD this week in remaining relevant in the sports world, as the Wildcats managed to steal two significant headlines during a less-than-stellar Super Bowl week.
The basketball team’s 65-56 upset of Wisconsin at the Kohl Center came barely 24 hours after now ex-Cats quarterback Kain Colter and the football team upset a few folks, namely the NCAA, by becoming the face of an Northwestern labor movement that could change the landscape of college sports forever. The purists will point to the purple celebrating the program’s first win in Madison in almost 20 years as a fair payoff for the many sacrifices attached to an athletic scholarship. Well, that and actually graduating with a prestigious degree.
Colter and the newly formed College Athletes Players Association don’t believe high-level competition and a fully paid education are nearly enough compensation to the workforce behind a multi-billion dollar entertainment business. The National Labor Relations Board — and ultimately the courts — will decide if these so-called “student” athletes are actually employees.
I don’t think there’s any question that’s the case when it comes to major college football and basketball players. They hardly go to school for “free,” while making their coaches millionaires. By the way, those coaches are allowed to sneak off in the middle of the night for a better deal, while their teams are held hostage by unrealistic rules and regulations. Even worse, players are sent packing if they’re not producing at an expected level.
Besides the proliferation of ESPN, power conferences now have their own TV networks that profit off games being played nation-wide almost every day of the week. So much for the kids not missing class. It’s a shame that many college athletes allow themselves to be exploited by not taking advantage of the life-changing opportunity that higher education affords.
However, they weren’t recruited to these institutions to boost the academic standing of the university. The bottom line is they were brought in to win and add to the profile and pocketbooks of their particular schools. The current system that allows NBA lottery farm clubs like to Kentucky, and for Nick Saban to be paid more than most NFL coaches, is patently corrupt.
In a little more than a month, the country will be mesmerized once again with March Madness, but the money-makers on the court won’t receive an adequate return on their investment.
If we’re going to treat them like pros, then pay them like it. It’s the greedy NCAA and it’s members who should be forming a more perfect union.
Ryan Baker is CBS 2 Chicago’s lead sports anchor. You can follow him on Twitter @RyanBakerSports.