Northwestern's Union Play: Could It End Women's College Sports?

Northwestern's Union Play: Could It End Women's College Sports?

It’s been almost comical to watch the liberal sports media’s obvious arousal over what they deem the heroic effort by the Northwestern football team to unionize. I say almost comical because this effort is something that could change the face of college athletics forever, and not necessarily for the good either. 

It is also based on a fundamental flaw. And as is the case with liberals in general, the MSNBC wannabes at ESPN – and other outlets – have no situational awareness of the potential unintended consequences if this is successful. They are simply driven by the leftist reflexive hatred of “the man,” which in big-time college athletics, means fat-cat athletic directors and coaches apparently – and of course the NCAA. You know, all the people “exploiting” these poor put upon college athletes. Never mind that every single big-time athlete knew the deal years ago and yet still ordered their entire lives to try and obtain this status. Exploitation has never been so pleasant, let alone desired evidently.

Also contributory to this mindset is the universal liberal notion that there is an endless pool of money that will never go away, and a total incognizance to the fact that big time college sports costs a ton of money to produce. The way people talk about football revenues, you would think that 100,000 seat stadia and 300-piece marching bands and perfect turf fields carry no costs. 

(Moreover, the media celebrities seem oblivious to the fact that unions are at an all-time low in the public’s mind, and that many will likely sour on college sports if it is unionized.)

But first, back to those other unintended consequences: could this be the beginning of the end of all women’s teams, as well as all non-revenue men’s teams? Logically, yes. 

Consider: the foundational principle for unionizing football players – which by the way means a paycheck – is that it is they who generate revenue for the schools. This foundation is really not as true as it seems, since revenues were generated long before these guys were born and will continue long after they are gone. True revenue generation by a person or a group indicates that said revenues would not be generated if it were not for them specifically. 

Think Rush Limbaugh’s impact on his show revs, or the Beatles’ impact on their album sales. A given group of players who simply participate in what has been an obsession for the nation for many decades – and where the revenue model is often tied to the simple coincidence of a school’s name being the same name as an entire state – cannot make the same claim. Does any Alabama (or fill in the blank) football player deserve credit for the fact that every Alabaman is a potential ticket buying fan by birth? This is the underlying argument that no one in the media, or even on the staff of the incompetent and inarticulate NCAA, seems to grasp – but more on that later. 

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the current crop of players do actually generate the money, and down the road are successful in unionizing. This would mean that in the name of equality and equity, that suddenly all college athletes would be separated into tiers. Revenue sport athletes would be one class, and all non-revenue athletes, and this means every single woman who plays college sports would be relegated to a second-class status. 

For the record, revenue sports are those that produce net revenue. Translated, this means big-time football programs and mid-major and major basketball teams. The historically black colleges like Grambling and Southern hang on financially because big corporations are coerced into paying television ad rights for a few feature games a year on national TV. A very few baseball programs turn a profit, and maybe a couple women’s basketball teams will – but think about it: UCONN and Tennessee can’t play each other 25 times a year. And you can’t have union athletes playing non-union athletes. No self-respecting union would allow such a thing.

So if this Northwestern effort is successful, gone would be much of the money now spent on all of the non-revenue sports on scholarships, travel, uniforms, arenas and other facilities, coaches, etc. The swim team and women’s basketball and field hockey and so on would have to face the market, meaning they would be gone. Oops.

In other words, a hell storm of a Pandora’s box of complications will be unleashed that apparently no one has contemplated. You know, a lot like ObamaCare. In addition to the separating of athletes by revenue status, you would have to further stratify schools and conferences too. Unionized football would eventually become only available for the largest handful of schools with massive fan bases. After all, no self respecting players’ union will allow big state universities to prop up small private schools in football by conference alignments, guaranteed pay days, and television games. 

We’ve all seen union thugs in Ohio and Wisconsin operate. Do you think for a minute that the union will allow Ohio State and Wisconsin’s huge fan bases continue to subsidize, say, Northwestern by way of shared Big Ten revenues? Oops. How ironic. 

And Baylor, you can forget sharing in Texas’s revenues via the Big 12. This list goes on and on, and if you think I’m exaggerating, you have not followed union history very closely. These consequences might not manifest immediately, but they are preordained if Northwestern’s players are successful. If you think the ObamaCare roll out was a disaster, wait until big time college football is unionized. Only the liberals will be surprised.

(Next installment: the confusing math of revenue production in sports).