Unless you've been living under a rock, you have probably heard by now about how football players at Northwestern won their initial hearing in their efforts to unionize. SB Nation's Patrick Vint put together a very helpful explainer on the ins and outs of the decision, (or you could listen to this podcast with Friends of the Holy Land, Solid Verbal, and NCAA Bylaw wizard John Infante) and the potential ramifications are being discussed by college football fans everywhere.
In the short term, this doesn't mean much for Ohio State. Since Ohio State is a public institution, they are not bound by the NLRB, and the final outcome in the Northwestern case will likely be unknown for a while, as it will surely continue through appeals hell. From a long term vantage, however, this could open the door to expediting radical reform that would impact players from public and private institutions alike.
Sports fans have not been shy about sharing their opinions and various #hot #takes about unions, but what about Ohio State football players? A few media members have asked some Buckeyes, current and former, for what they think about the issue.
One current Buckeye, Michael Bennett, was asked what he thought about the Northwestern situation. From Fox Sports Ohio/Buckeye Sports Bulletin writer Marcus Hartman:
"I don't know the full reason behind their union. I don't agree necessarily with football players being unionized. We don't necessarily see the money, but we are getting a lot of benefit out of our scholarships. It just kind of seems silly to want to be unionized because we get a lot of stuff that people don't get. Yeah, we don't get the same opportunities, but we can get set up for life after football if we really want to. So it's all about taking advantage of what you do get. I don't think the union is necessarily a great idea. Everyone wants to get more money all the time, but I mean we're getting a good amount."
Hartman also points out that Bennett seriously considered attending Northwestern, before eventually deciding to join the Buckeyes.
This is an interesting quote because it seems to frame the union issue in terms of financial compensation: are players getting enough of the revenue they're playing a key role in generating? Much of the recent conversation on Twitter, or throughout the media, has jumped from "unions" to "should players get a salary", which, while a worthwhile debate, isn't actually what players at Northwestern were organizing for – at least not yet. If proponents of college athlete unionization want to expand beyond Northwestern, it's likely that they will need to do a better job selling players on the idea of other things being at stake besides money, like health care, stability, and an increased role in the decision making process.
Cleveland.com's Doug Lesmerises wrote an enlightening article on the subject yesterday that tracked down a few recent former Buckeyes as well. Corey "Philly" Brown, in an interview before the Northwestern ruling, wasn't shy about his feelings regarding student-athlete compensation:
"It probably won't happen anytime soon," Brown said in the interview before the Northwestern ruling, "but we all feel like people should be getting paid. As much money as Ohio State makes per game, a little extra per diem or anything ... that wouldn't hurt. We all feel the same way."
Perhaps the most interesting nugget comes from Brown's interaction with Kain Colter, the former Northwestern QB and leader of the student unionization movement.
"All college football players feel the same, and if you don't, you're not a human," Brown said. "Everyone feels this way, especially the way Kain is presenting it and taking charge. Just to see a dude like him, who was a senior last year, really try to start a movement ... I handed the bands out to everyone, and everyone wears them now."
The bands he's talking about where the APU (All Players United) wristbands that other athletes at prominent programs, like Georgia Tech, wore during parts of last season.
The logistics of paying players, and how much to pay players, is a complicated question, and one even athletes might have different opinions on. Former safety (and captain) Christian Bryant added:
"Almost everybody I would say believes that we should get paid," said former safety Christian Bryant, who, like Brown, was a senior and a captain last season. "People who don't play a sport, I feel like their argument would be they get a scholarship to a university. That's fine and dandy.
"Still, the amount of money that's made for the university, that collegiate athletes are making for the university, that isn't shared to the collegiate athlete ... I feel like that rule will definitely be changed in the next five years."
And again, later in the article:
Bryant, for instance, said he believed $5,000 to $10,000 a year more for college football players would be reasonable amount. He said he doesn't believe players need a true salary.
So what should we take away from this?
I imagine that over the entire offseason, more Buckeye players will be asked about how they feel about the NCAA amateur model, unionization, and other developments (or at least they should be). I don't expect everybody to feel unanimously about the subject, especially since changes to the current NCAA model are becoming more complex, and as it's easy to lose sight of, we're dealing with college kids here.
Though unionization in a very literal sense is unlikely to make its way to OSU's Central Ohio campus anytime soon, should the organizers behind its movement help reshape their message even but a bit, it only further increases the chances that we see dramatic reform in college athletics sooner rather than later.