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The Pros and Cons of Unionizing College Athletics

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, commonly referred to as the NCAA, has argued for decades that giving student-athletes anything more than an education would be wrong.

But many former athletes and the National Labor Relations Board say that scholarship football players are employees with the right to unionize.

United Steel Workers Union President Leo Gerard says he understands why the players want to form a union.

"I think the objective of the collegiate athletes is to have a voice at the table and at this point they're not talking about what many of the news outlets are improperly reporting. They're not talking about wages at this point. But, they are talking about a sufficient stipend so that they can have enough food to live on. In some cases they'll get a food credit but it's not enough. They want enough of a stipend so they can meet their needs. They want to get health coverage during the practice as well as the game. They want to get health coverage so that if they have major injuries, and one of the big issues is to have a seat at the table to talk about concussions. The NFL Players Association has negotiated some much improved concussion protection as have the NHL, and the NBA and soccer. Many of them that are unionized sports and have a seat at the table to protect them from things like concussions."

Exploring the pros and cons of college athletes unionizing:


  • Schools are making more money than ever from the revenues of televised college sports, especially men's football and basketball
  • Players don't see any of the money made by the NCAA through athletics, even as they risk career-ending injuries.
  • Sponsors would be able to endorse college players
  • Compensation might encourage players to stay in college longer and increase the graduation rate of student-athletes
  • Payment for players can cover living expenses so they do not need to keep a part-time job, on top of classes and practice/game schedules


  • The NCAA argues that paying players would break the spirit of amateurism.
  • Traditionalists also argue that college sports exist not so athletes could gain profit, but to foster the true meaning of sportsmanship between colleges.
  • Another problem with pay-to-play is the "unfairness" for less popular sports that acquire little to no revenue and colleges with less funds.
  • NCAA argues that the opportunity to both receive an education and get the exposure to win a major professional contract more than compensates NCAA athletes for their efforts

A collegiate student-athlete union has not been created yet, but the conversation continues with the NCAA, players, and individual colleges and universities.

WESA will be surveying Pennsylvania candidates for federal and state office for the 2022 general election — tell us which issues are most important to you.