As the men’s basketball tournament known as March Madness edges closer to crowning another national champion, the debate over whether the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) exploits some of its student-athletes has reached a high-water mark.
In a ruling on Wednesday, a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Chicago said that football players at Northwestern University were employees of the private school and therefore had the right to unionize, setting up the possibility of the first labor union in college sports. A Northwestern spokesman said the university will appeal the ruling to the full NLRB in Washington. The NCAA, which was not a party to the proceeding but would be affected by unionizing, said on its website: “We strongly disagree with the notion that student-athletes are employees.”
This week, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan ’87, a former Harvard basketball star, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that universities should consider tying bonus pay for college coaches and athletic directors to the academic performance and graduation rates of athletes, not team wins and losses. Duncan also criticized some university presidents and boards for not doing enough to ensure that the tail of athletics doesn’t wag the academic dog. While it is a member of the NCAA, Harvard offers only need-based financial aid. …
Peter Carfagna is a lecturer on law at Harvard Law School (HLS) and runs its Sports Law Clinic. A practicing sports law attorney, he spoke with the Gazette about the debate over compensation for student-athletes and the pending legal challenges to the NCAA’s authority.