Idea of players union has attention of Gamecocks

Some say they feel like employees of the school

jkendall@thestate.comMarch 27, 2014 

South Carolina tight end Rory Anderson (81)


Rory Anderson considers himself an employee of the University of South Carolina, and Steve Spurrier can’t blame him.

Anderson, a senior tight end on the Gamecocks football team, was tickled to hear that a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board agreed with his cause this week in ruling that Northwestern players should be considered employees of the school and can form a union if they desire.

“Whooo, I am glad y’all asked me this,” Anderson said after Thursday’s two-hour practice. “That is something I have been thinking about, honestly. College football is a business, we already know that.”

Spurrier, a former college quarterback who is entering his 10th season as the Gamecocks’ coach, doesn’t wholly disagree.

“I see their point, a little bit,” he said of the Northwestern case. “I hope it doesn’t come down to the point where all schools are forming unions. I hope the NCAA – the BCS conferences especially – that can afford to give a stipend of $4,000 to $5,000 so college football and basketball players can help their families with travel expenses and, maybe, live a little bit better as a student-athlete.”

Asked how he would respond if his players came to him saying they had formed a union and had a list of demands, Spurrier replied, “Well, the NFL has a players association. They did that to their coaches and their owners. The owners and coaches said, ‘Yeah, OK, we’ll do that.’ They want to play, they don’t want anything unrealistic.”

For now, the argument is purely hypothetical at schools such as South Carolina, said Reyburn W. Lominack III, an attorney at the Columbia office of Fisher & Phillips, a labor and employment firm. This week’s ruling, which could be appealed to the full NLRB, covers private schools, which might be good news for the players at Wofford and Furman but means little for the Gamecocks, Lominack said.

“This is definitely a groundbreaking ruling that could potentially have a significant impact not only on labor relations, but the whole concept of ‘pay for play’ college athletics,” Lominack said.

The ruling “is interesting, but I’m not sure how much there is to it beyond being a hot media topic,” he said.

Under South Carolina state law, public sector employees are not allowed to unionize, which would kill the case of South Carolina’s players even if they were deemed employees, Lominack said.

The Gamecocks polled Thursday seemed to understand that this week’s decision won’t have an immediate impact on their lives.

“I think it’s just one step of many,” junior running back Mike Davis said. “I’d like to see how it plays out. I want to see how Northwestern handles that.”

Junior running back Shon Carson feels more like an employee of the university than a student at it, he said.

“We put more time out here than in class and all that,” Carson said. “I feel like we have the right to (be in a union).”

Anderson agrees.

“I feel like I’m an employee out here,” he said. “I am coming in working hard every day, going to classes, going to study hall, doing everything I need to do. It gets hard. I am not going to lie to you. I am busy from when I get up at 8:30 or earlier than that until after practice and then a lot of guys have study hall after practice. We put in a lot of hours every week. We put in 40-plus hours a week when we are practicing.”

Spurrier has advocated a stipend for college football and basketball players for several years, and the SEC has tried to push a proposal through the NCAA that would allow schools to increase the value of athletics scholarships, but that measure has stalled.

“Our commissioners and our presidents and our NCAA people have talked about it, but they haven’t done anything at all about it, so we’ll see if they come up with a plan here soon,” Spurrier said. “I think the Northwestern kids were just trying to show, ‘We work for the university a little bit. We bring in a lot of money for the university.’ I think that’s what they are trying to say.”

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