Sports Columns

January 31, 2014

Norman Arey: Union talk is serious step for college sports

Hold on just a second if you think the rich always get richer. Earlier this week, members of Northwest-ern University’s football team submitted a form to become members of a union or to create their own union, a proposal backed by the U.S. Steelworkers of America.

Ordinarily the business of unionization is pretty boring stuff, but this has all the markings of what is known as a tipping point. The proposed union is named the College Athletes Players Association. The real question is whether the athletes in the revenue-producing sports (football and men’s basketball) are employees of the university or simply student-athletes.

Schools have gotten greedy with the new influx of big bucks from television. The advent of the $10 million head coach is almost here.

Here’s what Taylor Branch wrote about the subject in an article for The Atlantic magazine: “College sports seem to have reached a reckoning point, and there's no going back. The ridiculous sums that are spent on hiring coaches, upgrading facilities and postseason bowls and tournaments are in stark contrast to the sums that are shelled out for the actual performers.”

What does it all mean?

The players want a seat at the table.

They want to be recognized as employees rather than students. They want better medical coverage, other health issues to be addressed, some input in where the moneys are spent and some financial compensation.

With the graduation of athletes hovering around 50 percent, the academic part of the equation seems to be lacking. Schools have been dismissive of complaints and issues brought forth by athletes in the past, but now that won’t be so easy with the U.S. Steelworkers knocking on the door.

The litigation, which is sure to come, could go on for several years. Players from Alabama, Georgia and Georgia Tech, to name a few, have endorsed what Northwestern is doing.

BETTER TOGETHER?: There’s an Internet story asking what if the Southeastern Conference got rid of divisions in football. The Atlantic Coast Conference is studying doing that to remedy what has happened in the past when the two best teams in the league were both in the same division.

Therefore the league had the horrible mismatch of Georgia Tech playing Florida State one year for the conference title. The move would also free the teams to play nine-game league schedules and balance out the scheduling.

DIAMOND DAYS: Quarterback Jameis Winston, after winning the Heisman Trophy and leading his Florida State football team to the national championship, wants to make it two titles in the same year. Winston is a starting outfielder and part-time pitcher on the Seminoles baseball team, which holds a No. 6 preseason ranking. And speaking of Winston, when 5-star wide receiver recruit Malachi Dupre visited, who else would be his host but Winston?

DARKHORSE GAMECOCK: University of South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw is rated as a sixth- or seventh-round NFL draft choice, but NFL watchers predict somebody will take him and be happy they did. Shaw completed 63 percent of his passes last season for 2,400 yards, 24 touchdowns and one interception while rushing for 600 yards and six touchdowns. The Gamecocks were 27-5 in his three seasons.

HERE AND THERE: There are billboards all over Texas urging the NFL’s Houston Texans to draft Johnny Manziel. My question is why would they want him to stay in the state? ... Notre Dame Stadium and the surrounding area will undergo a $400 million change with three buildings that will be used for academics and athletics being constructed to join the stadium. ... John Daly, my favorite golfer, has invested heavily in a pizza company that will furnish pizzas to golf courses. The motto of the company is “Grip it and eat it.” ... Earlier this week, kicker Conner Mertens at Division III Willamette University became the first active athlete to proclaim he was bisexual. ... The college football schedule rankings are out and Arkansas and Florida are No. 1 and No. 2 respectively. Other notables: Tennessee (3), Auburn (7), South Carolina (9), LSU (16), Georgia (26), Clemson (30), Alabama (36), Florida State (37) and Georgia Tech (43).

DREAM DIED WITH HIM: In an obituary that appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this month, Robley Henson Tatum’s likes and dislikes were printed. The obit said Tatum enjoyed family, neighbors, Georgia Tech, the Atlanta Braves, the AJC, the Waffle House, the Hickory House, the Picadilly Cafeteria and Little Debbies. But, it continued, he didn’t get his final wish — which was to see Paul Johnson be fired as the head football coach at Tech.

Norman Arey is an award-winning journalist whose column appears in The Daily Citizen on Thursday and Saturday. You can write to him at

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