Why The Boston College Board of Trustees Backed Non-Unionization in College Sports

‘Tis the season that college football players go hungry and broke and accept illegal favors for respite, get tattoos and lose eligibility, or wash their car and get slammed with a fine.

In early July, the Board of Trustees of Boston College, along with the University of Notre Dame and Brigham Young University, issued an amicus brief—a legal position taken by parties not participating in the actual legal battle—that backed Northwestern University in its National Labor Relations Board case with the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA).

Lawyers representing the three schools (BC, ND and BYU) supported Northwestern University's claim that their varsity football team does not have the power to unionize because student-athletes are not employees.

"Employment is fundamentally a contractual relationship,” the brief reads. “In order for a 'for hire' employment contract to exist, the parties [student-athlete and school] must intend to enter into such a relationship.”

The drama surrounding the NCAA's argument is legitimate. No different from a university employee, some would argue, student-athletes provide a product that yields a return.

It doesn't help that "the market" is huge, either. Some athletic programs score millions in revenue. And the student-athletes reasonably want a chunk of change for their "work."

Photo Courtesy of NCAA/ flickr.

Photo Courtesy of NCAA/ flickr.

The divide rests at whether or not you think "the market" and "work" should be in quotations. Interpreting college sports as a business, and not a service to the athletes who are getting compensated by way of a fat scholarship, gives the impression that these athletes are getting cheated out.

Multimillion-dollar media deals and football programs that net tens of millions by December are glaring, red flags (for some) that signal the call for better athlete compensation—and representation in the form of a players union.

The issue is case-by-case and overanalyzed to the point of exhaustion. But it's still important to recognize why BC decided to back Northwestern, and effectively the principle that student-athletes don’t hold a “status of employment”:

1. For better or for worse, it goes against the traditional conservative and religious doctrine of the school.

Ideology is the main driving force in BC’s filing of an amicus brief.

2. BC took the status quo on student-athlete compensation.

At the 2011 NCAA Convention, BC voted to override a miscellaneous expense allowance that would have granted $2,000 to student-athletes to cover the cost of college that a typical scholarship would not cover. Senior associate AD Jody Mooradian said in a 2011 interview on the expense allowance that “the intent was good, but the implementation and time line were difficult.”

3. BC is a union-conducive environment, or so says SB Nation.

The sports site ranked BC as the private school “likeliest to unionize.” The writer cited Boston’s liberal political culture, and the push from local politicians for a “College Athletes Bill of Rights.” Boston City Councillor Josh Zakim vocalized his distaste for schools not providing health coverage to injured college athletes by proposing such a bill of rights. BC said that it provides secondary insurance to its student-athletes, and honors all the scholarships of all injured student-athletes.

Follow @BCGavelSports for the latest updates on Boston College athletics.

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Teddy Kolva