I don’t know sports, but I do know unions. When the owners are making hundreds of millions, the workers are going to bed hungry, and the paying customers are parroting “You should be grateful just to have this job!”… well, that’s why there are unions. From Ivan Solotaroff, at SB Nation:
… [T]he Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics… began in the wake of 1980s scandals and rule changes, and with a mission still divided between balancing NCAA budgets and its rules governing the education of student-athletes, constituent members tend not to be fans of Ramogi Huma. He’s been the most consistent critic of those budgets, rules and educational metrics for 15 years.
… Few issues are more polarizing than the NCAA’s stewardship of the student-athlete, a term he’s disliked ever since he was one in the mid-1990s, when he played linebacker for UCLA. Headlines from that adversarial stewardship — typically, violations of bylaws and NCAA disciplinary actions that often seem draconian, politically motivated or simply random — are usually taken by college sports fans as distasteful distractions from the games themselves.
That tide is turning. The latest ABC/Washington Post poll shows the nation now divided down the middle on college athletes having the right to unionize — as unthinkable as gay marriage a few years ago — and after 15 years in the public eye, Huma knows how easily perception can replace reality with polarizing issues: Public opinion, once turned, can favor not only the exact opposite but seem eternal in a very short span of time….
… NCAA finances are as difficult to sort through as the numbers are high, and the figures can vary hugely with the bias of those reporting them. Most media outlets glibly equate “unionization” and “compensation” with professional salaries for NCAA athletes, but the association knows Huma isn’t pursuing any such thing. The only big number that concerns him is the $600-plus million announced as this year’s NCAA war chest for legal and legislative expenditures. “That’s precisely where the student-athlete is truly amateur,” he says. “You’re talking 18-, 19-year-old kids, a ‘turnstile’ employee, changing at minimum every four years, going up against that $600-plus million.” Without an advocate such as Huma and NCPA, the student-athlete has neither the legal resources nor the stamina to challenge the NCAA’s power.
He’s happy to gauge the current “value-per” of the top revenue-producing D-I athlete — the roughly 10,000 football players and 5,000 basketball players — at $80,000 over and above the average value of a $43,000 full scholarship. An interesting way of looking at the average D-I football/basketball player is as a $123,000 annual commodity, or roughly, the value of a good minor-league baseball player. Some would argue that’s what the D-I system has become: a nationwide farm-team system. “That’s $1.2 billion [net profit after expenses] divided by 15,000 D-I athletes,” Huma prefers to leave it, simplifying the math. He’s quick to add that while that $1.2 billion includes ridiculously high expenditures and biases on the part of athletic directors (ADs), Huma is not pursuing that $80,000 for each individual athlete, and never has.
In fact, he’s not pursuing salaries of any kind, for that matter. A man who lost 10 pounds in his “full-scholarship” freshmen year — “That’s living on three dorm-meals while putting in 40-to 60-hour weeks on the field” — he’s just trying to get kids above the “poverty line.” According to statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Education, the typical D-I athlete — and 85 percent of all NCAA athletes — is living $3,000-$5,000 below that line, varying with conference. That shortfall must be particularly galling to athletes whose names and likenesses are generating millions in resources. Huma campaigned for a decade for a $2,000 stipend for D-I athletes to help address the shortfall. The NCAA Board last year finally approved it, but not a dime has been paid out, as individual colleges vetoed that stipend. In an indication of how the NCAA handles such matters, Mark Emmert conjured up a $2,000 stipend as a means of addressing student-athlete shortfall at the Final Four press conference, as if that very measure hadn’t been debated for a decade…
“After the Knight Commission, a lot of guys from the NCAA came up privately,” he recalls a month after returning from Miami. This will be the first of what will prove a three-day series of oft-interrupted phone interviews from his office in Riverside, Calif.,: Huma’s phone will not stop ringing these days. “I was truly amazed by the support that was voiced for all our goals. With the exception,” he adds, laughing, “of a players’ union. And I got it: They’re done countering our arguments now. How do you counter medical expenses for players? I think what they’re hoping for now is the benefit of the doubt, that they can handle this internally. We’re beyond that: The NCAA arbitrarily making things right? Nah. With all respects: Been there, done that.”