Could big changes come for college athletes?

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A federal agency said football players at Northwestern University can create the nation’s first union of college athletes.

In a nutshell, it means Northwestern’s athletes would be treated more like employees than students.

Some of their demands include guaranteed medical coverage, concussion prevention, increased graduation rates and compensation for commercial sponsorships. It could also lead to strikes by players or lockouts by athletic departments.

It’s a controversial issue.

24-Hour News 8 talked with a marketing professor and several college sports fans who said while the idea sounds great, they don’t see a high court backing this idea.

“I’m a little bit surprised. But long term I don’t really think it will go far,” said Dr. Larry DeGaris, Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Indianapolis.

Dr. DeGaris said the NLRB’s decision brings attention to what some college athletes have been wanting for years: a voice.

“I think it’s a valid point and it’s something that the NCAA probably should be more responsive to, but that’s not to say a union is the best way to go about that,” Dr. DeGaris said.

A NLRB director ruled Northwestern football players qualify as employees under federal law. But Dr. DeGaris said this potential move could backfire.

“Be careful what you wish for, athletes, because being an employee also means you’re inviting other competition. You’re gaining some benefits, but you’re taking on a whole lot more responsibility and vulnerabilities,” he said.

Gregg Barthelmes said he can see both sides of the issue.

“There’s a lot of people that can make money off of college athletes and at the same time I think they should be entitled to that if they are making money off of them, but they’re getting paid for their scholarship and their free education,” he said.

Eric Garrett said while the idea sounds great, college athletes should see the bigger picture.

“Ultimately, a lot of these kids wouldn’t have a chance to go to school if they weren’t great athletes, and they should take advantage of it. Play the sport, yeah, it’s a little rough, getting up when you don’t want to, practicing hard at the same time you’re getting your school paid for,” Garrett said.

But, the College Athletes Players Association would disagree. Attorneys for the association argue that college football is a commercial enterprise that rely on players’ labor to generate billions of dollars in profits. That association was started by former Northwestern football quarterback Kain Colter.

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