Players, attorneys and administrators recently have argued the merits of allowing college athletes to form labor unions. One who represents all three weighed in this week.
“I’m a full proponent of doing something about player equity,” said Chuck Allen, former South Carolina defensive captain and current attorney and member of the USC Board of Trustees. “There’s more to it than what we pay for a scholarship. I think there are some gross inequities, when you consider the millions and billions (of dollars) generated by football and basketball. A player so broke he can’t get to his hometown, or get something to eat late at night, I think that’s unconscionable.”
Allen realizes that a lot has changed since he was manning the Gamecocks’ defensive trenches from 1977-80. Then, he lived in an athletics dormitory with its own cafeteria as a full scholarship covered tuition and books. He didn’t get a stipend, as players do now.
Then again, he also didn’t have every day of his college tenure planned out for him by the football staff.
“You had to attend study hall your entire freshman year, but after that, once you hit a certain grade-point minimum, you were allowed to study on your own,” Allen said. “The summer school and the summer workouts weren’t quite as controlled and regimented as they have been for now a decade. Most guys went back to hometowns, and that was kind of viewed as your rest for the year.”
Allen said that if he and his teammates ever talked about getting paid as a collegian, it was always in a joking manner. They did once compute what the scale was, comparing the cost of tuition to the hours they put in for football to minimum wage, but never took it to their coaches or administrators.
Once he began his legal career, Allen would read about random cases that dealt with similar issues. Nothing made as much of an impact as the recent ruling by a National Labor Relations Board offical that Northwestern athletes are employess of the school and, thus, entitled to form a union.
“I was surprised, as probably 99 percent of America was surprised,” Allen said. “There’s been a lot going on as far as player equity, and that’s probably what led to it.”
Allen sees the case progressing to federal court and then, perhaps, to the Supreme Court. Because so many questions have been raised about the NCAA, and its member institutions, profiting from the performance of college athletes, it seems unlikely that the status quo will remain. Donald Remy, chief legal officer for the NCAA, issued a terse statement after the ruling that admitted there were problems, but said the system has helped far more than it has hurt.
“While improvements need to be made, we do not need to completely throw away a system that has helped literally millions of students over the past decade alone attend college,” the statement read. “We want student-athletes – 99 percent of whom will never make it to the professional leagues – focused on what matters most – finding success in the classroom, on the field and in life.”
As an ex-player and member of the USC Board, Allen believes the system needs to be tweaked to give players something extra. USC football coach Steve Spurrier has lobbied for extra money for players, and Allen agrees. The NFL took steps to create a union that, in part, protects players who suffer life-changing injuries. College athletics don’t have that.
“There should be a fund established that’s accessible if athletes have a major injury,” Allen said. “It generates billions, and you’ve got players that are almost indigent. The particulars would have to be worked out, since there are different cost-of-living adjustments and different areas of the country for all of the universities, but there could be a fair and meaningful way to do that.
“I think most of the trustees here, and everywhere, think like I do. We have to do better for our players. There’s got to be more fairness in the system.”
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