“It doesn’t look good for them,” said civil engineering professor Timothy Ross, the University of New Mexico’s representative at the reform-minded Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics. “They don’t have much of a leg to stand on. The whole situation gets worse and worse every year. Coaches make more money, universities make more money, the way the athletes are treated is a joke. It’s embarrassing from a university standpoint.”
Last week, a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern football players had a right to unionize and likened college players to full-time employees. Players are seeking better health care and more protection after they graduate, along with a stake in the profits.
There are similar stakes involved in the lawsuit filed by former UCLA player Ed O’Bannon. The trial is scheduled for June and an NCAA loss there could force a complete rewriting of the current relationship between the NCAA, its schools and their players.
Even staunch supporters of the current system agree changes are afoot.
“You can’t ignore all the litigation,” said Chuck Neinas, a longtime college sports leader who most recently served as interim commissioner of the Big 12. “There is a need for some changes. The auto industry is always trying to improve their model. College athletics should do the same. But the basics are still sound.”
Earlier this year at the NCAA convention, ideas were shared about giving the five power conferences — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — more autonomy within the current system. Some are hoping a new model will be in place by this spring.
A key goal would be to make it possible for players at bigger schools to receive a stipend. The idea of a $2,000 stipend was on the table but got voted down by smaller schools that don’t have huge moneymaking basketball and football teams to buttress the entire athletics program.