Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Labor Turmoil in College Athletics

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Labor Turmoil in College Athletics

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON - Bob was a dirt poor kid from Pensacola, Fla., when he won a scholarship for football at a Division One school in Mississippi. He had grown up in the kind of poverty most of us can hardly imagine, and the scholarship was a Godsend - the only way he could imagine going to college.

There was only one hitch. He had absolutely no money, beyond the room and board provided by the university, and he had no legal way of getting it. He couldn't buy a hamburger nor afford to go to a movie or to get his bad teeth fixed. His family had nothing, and the time he spent on the football field and keeping up his grades and the restrictions imposed by the NCAA precluded him from working.

While others around him were enjoying at least some semblance of college social life, the small amount of free time afforded him was spent in his dorm room. He increasingly believed he was in prison. He saw only one way out. He quit the team and dropped out of school. He found a job and enrolled in a much cheaper community college program. He was frugal, living in a tiny room and washing dishes at an all-night restaurant for his food.

It took Bob three years and working two jobs to complete a two- year course at the community college. But he saved enough money to enroll at a large university in his home state and complete his education in journalism with honors. He had a substantial career and made it here as a correspondent for a major newspaper.

This story, as sad or inspirational as it may seem depending on one's point of view, goes to the heart of the increasing turmoil over whether college athletes should be compensated beyond the cost of their education for their contribution to the millions of dollars in revenues their hard work produces for their universities. It is one of the thorniest issues college administrators and the NCAA face. A ruling from a regional National Labor Relations Board member that football players at prestigious Northwestern University are actually employees of the institution and can legally unionize has opened the door to a full-blown debate and more.

As the father of three boys who received "full ride" football scholarships at Division One schools, I sometimes wonder who is exploiting whom - the universities or the athletes, especially when basketball players frequently parlay a semester and a half into a fortune in the NBA. …

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