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Share the wealth

Date published: 4/6/2014

SO FAR, this year has been a mixed bag for unions. In February, the United Auto Workers saw defeat snatched from the jaws of victory when Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tenn., narrowly voted against joining the UAW, thus denying that organization a rare chance to make a small inroad into the relentlessly anti-union South. Dixie's landscape is dotted with dying mill towns where the workers voted down unions because they feared the mill owners would leave--and then the mill owners left. A massive campaign in Chattanooga played on this old fear and trumped the fact that even VW's German management wanted the plant to unionize.

Organized labor got a little salve for its wound recently, though. The National Labor Relations Board declared that the members of the Northwestern University football team are workers, not student-athletes (a phrase the National Collegiate Athletic Association came up with back in the 1950s in order to keep from paying workers' compensation benefits to the widow of a dead football player).

Your average college athlete should not go out and buy a new Lexus, though, unless some under-the-table booster has already made that possible. The NCAA and the universities will fight this tooth and nail. Also, the NLRB can't control what happens with state institutions, only private ones.

However, the dam has been breached, and it will be hard for the NCAA to avoid the same fate as all those sinners in the new "Noah" movie.

Perhaps unionizing can keep college athletes from having their scholarships yanked in mid-career because the same coaches who told them they walked on water have now found someone more buoyant.

Maybe a player will be able to do the same thing his coach does--leave in a heartbeat when he gets a better offer without losing a year of his short career.

Perhaps it will level the monetary playing field a little, so that coaches earning seven-figure salaries and bloated athletic department bureaucracies won't be the only ones getting a taste of all that TV, gate-receipts, endorsement and donor money. Things have changed. John Wooden coached UCLA teams to 10 NCAA basketball championships. His highest salary was $35,000 a year. That's not a week's pay for a lot of the upper-echelon coaches now.

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