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Reeling in decision-makers would loosen the noose on college athletes

Coaches and administrators have not protected the athletes in their charge. Coaches and administrators talk about the high ideals on which college athletics is based. They do not practice them.
by Berry Tramel Published: March 27, 2014
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photo - FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2013 file photo, Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter (2), wears APU for
FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2013 file photo, Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter (2), wears APU for "All Players United" on wrist tape as he scores a touchdown during an NCAA college football game against Maine in Evanston, Ill. The decision to allow Northwestern football players to unionize raises an array of questions for college sports. Among them, state schools vs. public schools, powerhouse programs vs. smaller colleges. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

Commercial endorsements would be another prime union topic. Jay Bilas exposed NCAA hypocrisy last year when he found that on a NCAA shopping website, typing in the name of an athlete would offer up their jersey for sale. Video-game makers for years have paid schools rights fees, using images of players not named but clearly based on the real person. The OU quarterback, for example, a year ago was a tall, strong-armed, accurate passer who was not fleet afoot. Wore No. 12. Hometown of White Sands, N.M. Dead ringer for Landry Jones, just minus his name.

The notion that college athletes are employees could turn the entire NCAA landscape on its head. Taxation, of both athletes and athletic departments. Eligibility issues. Title IX issues. Public school/private school issues. Division I/lower division issues. Calling athletes employees ushers in chaos.

But universities have only themselves to blame. Schools have cultivated the culture of college athletics to reach the current summer system of voluntary (but actually mandatory) workouts with staff members who aren’t designated as coaches but have rampant power to make or break an athletic career. I don’t think college athletes are employees of the university. But I can understand the rationale of anyone who declares such.

If a union does materialize – and we’re a long way from it, since the NCAA will fight to the death to prevent it – and salaries become an issue, then the current system won’t survive. Maybe the NCAA wouldn’t, either. That’s when you could see major schools, like in the Big 12 and SEC, pull out and start over.

But if the union does what its organizers say it wants to do, improve the rights of athletes, maybe push for the cost-of-attendance stipend that has been close to implementation anyway, ensure that athletes aren’t exploited, the current system could survive. Maybe even thrive.

All it would cost is taking from coaches and administrators a little power, maybe a few bonuses and the idea that offering a free education gives you the right to treat people wrong.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at . He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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