When the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern University football players could be considered university employees if they were on scholarship, schools across the country began anticipating possible ramifications for their own athletes.
As it currently stands, colleges are poised to make enormous profits from the efforts of student-athletes, but athletes have no say in what benefits they receive in return. Aside from the customary athletic scholarship, athletes often require — and deserve — more from the institutions where they play: additional health care, the right to profit from promotions that use athletes’ names and images, additional time to spend on academics — just to name a few.
While the consequences of the ruling have yet to be seen, one thing is clear: Big-money Division I programs like Georgetown’s will have to clarify their players’ roles.
In the wake of the NLRB decision, Georgetown should reconsider its approach to athletics and decide on a system that better shares the benefits of its athletic programs with the players who make them possible.
Although the NCAA emphasizes that a student-athlete is a student first, the concept of the student-athlete is misleading because it suggests that the services that athletes render to the university are similar to those rendered by other students. They are not, which is something universities with robust athletic programs are well aware.
Division I programs demand the same hours as a full-time job, but schools have been able to leverage the student-athlete concept to avoid granting student-athletes their well-deserved labor rights.
It is important not to forget that college athletes are students; this role is at the heart of their college experience. However, acknowledging this does not preclude the recognition that student-athletes are also acting as employees. Recognizing that athletes on scholarship are both students and employees might be difficult to implement, but the status quo is both unjust and unsustainable.
Georgetown should take the NLRB decision as a wake-up call to do the right thing and rethink athlete-administration relations by considering more proactive labor policies for its student-athletes.