I have no doubt these players love playing -- and being a college athlete does enhance one's college experience. But let's be honest. The best players are hoping to parlay their college records into offers from professional sports teams, with the payoff coming in their own multimillion-dollar contracts.
Most college athletes, however, won't see those rewards. But nearly all who play football -- and, increasingly, basketball, baseball and other sports -- will experience wear and tear on their bodies that they may not have anticipated: concussion-related brain injuries, shattered bones, worn-out knees, hips and shoulders, torn muscles, ligaments and tendons.
Unions haven't helped other under-compensated university employees -- teaching assistants and adjuncts -- so I doubt Northwestern football players will benefit much if the NLRB ruling stands. But schools should look for a way to compensate players more fully for the role they play in building a school's reputation and raising money.
For one thing, schools could establish funds that players could later draw on when their injuries come back to bite them. And schools should work much harder to ensure that athletes actually graduate and find jobs when the NFL or NBA doesn't come courting.
In fact, why not pay graduation bonuses to athletes who have put in 50 or 60 hours a week on sports during the season to incentivize them to complete their degrees? Schools also could offer scholarships for graduate study for those athletes smart enough to know that an MBA, a JD or even a teaching certificate is a surer path to a secure economic future than football ever will be.
Of the 9,000 college football players nationally, scouts will choose only 310 for the NFL pool from which teams make their picks. And of those lucky few who make it onto an NFL team, the average career lasts about three seasons.
Colleges have gotten rich off of their football and basketball teams. It's time they delivered for the athletes who make that possible.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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