Possibility of student-athlete unions sparts debate at WIU

Apr 29, 2014

Student-athlete unions won’t be coming to Western Illinois University anytime soon. But the possibility is still sparking debate on campus. IPR'S Emily Boyer reports.

Western’s Athletic Director Tommy Bell says he is against the unionizing of student-athletes. But he admits they do deserve better representation within the NCAA. 

“I believe that we have got to get a process where we do have student’s athletes at the table administratively at every division 1 institution. I think that’s a good first start,” says Bell.

Bell says he worries unions would create inequality among student athletes. 

Pete Cole teaches labor history at Western. He says several factors have to be figured out. But the main issue is whether student-athletes are workers. And Cole says they are.  

“You have people who are essentially through their labor creating wealth but sharing very little in it. So in a way it’s no different than textile workers in Bangladesh, right. It’s not so different than auto workers in Tennessee. Whose making the moneys. You have corporations and the NCAA is technically a non-profit but it acts like a for profit employer,” says Cole.

The discussion may be a moot point depending on whether the football players at Northwestern voted in favor of forming a union. Their decision won’t be known until the National Labor Relations Board reviews the regional office’s ruling that permitted the vote.

The board’s ruling will only affect Northwestern at first but could be applied to all private-colleges. WIU Athletic Director Tommy Bell says it could be a game changer.