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The Philadelphia Inquirer

No more two-a-days.

That's one suggestion to help put the student in student-athlete. The NCAA has legislation on the books calling for no more than 20 hours a week involved in any "athletically-related activities."

How about enforcing it?

A National Labor Relations Board regional director noted some pretty overwhelming evidence that Northwestern football players were, in fact, employees of the school, causing him to approve an election for a union.

Northwestern's response: They're not employees because they're students.

One key piece of NLRB evidence: These players were working more than 40 hours a week at football, far more hours than they're working at their studies, the ruling noted, and more than some people already termed university employees.

That sports-to-academics ratio cited in Wednesday's ruling by Peter Sung Ohr could be tough for Northwestern's attorneys to contest when they go through the NLRB appeals process and move into the courts.

Although Ohr noted that Northwestern football generated $235 million between 2003 and 2012, he did not get into whether a Northwestern player is entitled to more compensation than the scholarship he already receives. In fact, Ohr ruled that walk-ons aren't part of this ruling. If you volunteer, you're not an employee.

The workload hardly just applies to football or to Northwestern. Across the Division I landscape of men's and women's sports - revenue-producing and nonrevenue, moneymaking or losing - college athletes are grinding out the hours, often doing one sport-related activity and a separate fitness workout.

It's common for teams to block out multiple times during a day where their athletes are not to take classes. In a recent talk at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany noted those 40 hours with dismay. Maybe he'll be a leader on this front, since he's certainly the leader in increasing the revenue that goes to Northwestern and the other Big Ten schools.

Not to suggest there shouldn't be a preseason camp with two-a-days. But throughout Division I, two-a-days have become normal days, with classes wedged in during the off hours.

Let's note some asterisks here. The NLRB only has jurisdiction of private-sector employers "whose activity in interstate commerce exceeds a minimal level," so the ruling wouldn't apply to public colleges. Right now, it only pertains to Northwestern football.

Drexel sports management professor Ellen Staurowsky questions whether female athletes would automatically be subject to collective bargaining.

"An institution can argue that it employs football and men's basketball players for the express purpose of supporting its sports entertainment venture," Staurowsky wrote in an e-mail, noting this might be more of a Title VII than a Title IX issue.

In his ruling, Ohr dug in pretty deeply on how little control athletes have over many aspects of their lives, from housing and dress code to social media. The ruling quoted quarterback Kain Colter, who said he was discouraged from taking a required chemistry class because it conflicted with morning practice. He eventually changed majors.

As for restrictions on when athletes could take classes, "this continued in the spring with scholarship players being told by their coaches and academic/athletic advisers that they could not take any classes that started before 11 a.m. as they would conflict with practice," the ruling noted.

That's in the alleged offseason.

Even if the courts were to ultimately agree with this ruling, the next step could be tricky. While a full scholarship may look paltry for the highest revenue-earners, it's no small thing when you're sitting on a bench, for example. (A separate point noted in the ruling: Athletic scholarships are for services rendered. Quit the team, lose the scholarship. Nobody on the team is being paid for the student part of the student-athlete mix.)

The College Athletes Players Association, a national umbrella group, isn't looking to completely upset the scholarship cart. It is looking for reforms, such as greater financial coverage for former athletes with sports-related medical expenses and the creation of an educational trust to help former players graduate.

How about starting with a realistic work day for the employees?

mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus

 

March 28, 2014

 

 
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