The recent news of Northwestern college football players winning the right to unionize this week was a pretty big deal. A lot of universities have issued statements ... and Pitt was one of them. The athletics department didn't address the situation specifically, but it was clear to see where they stood:
"The University of Pittsburgh remains committed to the concepts of amateurism and student-athletes that have always been the foundation of athletic endeavors. We do not believe that treating student-athletes as employees will be beneficial for the students."
Yeah, it's vanilla - but it pretty much sums up the feelings of the other schools, who have no interest in any of this.
I'm all for players seeing some added perks. One idea that's made the rounds for some time is making scholarships guaranteed for four years. Currently, players are technically on year-to-year scholarships, and that's not really fair. But paying players a salary isn't something that's going to come easily.
I've said it before, but there are just so many obstacles to paying players or considering them employees. Who gets paid? How much do they get paid? What about the schools that have football programs that don't make that much money? What happens to all of the non-revenue sports that often survive on football money?
Then there are the things schools could try to enforce if they were ever forced to treat athletes as employees. Could they revoke their scholarships in the middle of a season and essentially 'fire' them, as was debated on The Fan morning show on Thursday? Could they tax them or revoke scholarships entirely? Could they force them to work even longer hours? I just don't see how this gets through without schools wanting it to - which they clearly don't.
I've not heard this mentioned before, but the biggest hurdle the college athletes have is that they're utterly replaceable. We watch Pitt because we care about the program - not necessarily individual players. When a player like Larry Fitzgerald or Aaron Donald comes along, it's nice. But if Pitt was trotting out an entire team of mid-carders while the best athletes played in a minor league of sorts for the NFL, guess what - we'd still care. Following collegiate teams is about love for the school when it comes to the alumni. It's cliche, but the fact is that alumni care infinitely more about the name on the front of a jersey as opposed to the one on the back.
Then there's the idea of starting a minor league for the NFL. The only way such an idea would work, though, is if players were tied to specific teams where the fans of said team could have a true rooting interest. Players want to be paid, but the fact is that without a tie to the colleges, their true value drops significantly until they can play in the pros.
The ruling was a significant one, but don't hold your breath waiting for something monumental to happen. There are a million hurdles to clear and when everything shakes out, I don't think the players come out on top here.