INDIANAPOLIS - John Beilein was reluctant to talk about it. So was John Calipari. Nik Stauskas and his Michigan men's basketball teammates said they were indifferent about it.
A day after the National Labor Relations Board determined that Northwestern University’s athletes could vote to unionize - a decision that could alter the landscape of NCAA-regulated athletics - some of the coaches and athletes Thursday at the NCAA regional at Lucas Oil Stadium were asked their thoughts/perspectives on the ruling. Likely, so were a lot of other coaches and athletes across the country.
Beilein, Michigan’s men’s basketball coach, and Calipari, Kentucky’s coach, almost seemed agitated about the question, and three of Michigan’s players withheld comment on the grounds of lack of familiarity with the issue at hand. (though, it wouldn’t surprise me if they were told to skirt the issue. One or two of those guys and some of their peers could however be joining the NBA player’s association if it’s in their future.)
In Ann Arbor, at least Brady Hoke brought a little candor when asked about the issue.
“I think college football continues its track of evolving,” Hoke said. “I think it’s way complicated for anybody - for me at least I’ll say that - trying to educate yourself on what it means and what it doesn’t mean. The political process that’s part of it. I think for our kids, we encourage them to educate themselves and we will educate them on what we know.
“We’ve talked to them about it once, before spring started, to try and let them know what’s out there and to be fair to them.
“As this thing tracks along, we will find out more about it. How will it affect Michigan? I have no idea.”
On Thursday, the University of Pittsburgh released a statement saying it was against the unionization of its athletes. Penn State officials told The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa., that it considers its student-athletes as students, not as employees.
The NCAA in a release Wednesday said it disagrees with the NLRB’s ruling that student-athletes are employees.
“Over the last three years, our member colleges and universities have worked to re-evaluate the current rules,” the NCAA statement read. “While improvements need to be made, we do not need to completely throw away a system that has helped literally millions of students over the past decade alone attend college.”
The NLRB ruling says, yes, athletes at Northwestern can vote to unionize. But will it happen? Expect Northwestern to appeal this ruling. The ruling right now only applies to private schools but it raises some significant points about the health, safety and welfare of current student athletes; about the time they devote to major Division I athletics versus the time they spend to being a student; if they are, in fact, being paid by receiving a scholarship (and that’s a never-ending debate in college athletics) and the sanctions that are placed upon players by programs.
But the ruling - and those related to the Ed O'Bannon case and Jeffrey Kessler's filing of an antitrust suit against the NCAA and five major athletic conferences - could serve as a basis for potential reform of a system that some believe is flawed.