Pac-12's Scott: Union 'may well destroy' college athletics

By Jerry Hinnen | College Football Writer

Larry Scott believes women's sports will be in danger if athletes unionize. (USATSI)
Larry Scott believes women's sports will be in danger if athletes unionize. (USATSI)
Suffice it to say that, like virtually all of his fellow college athletics administrators, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is no fan of the movement to unionize college athletes.

Scott wrote in a recent guest column for USA Today that making scholarship athletes employees of their athletic departments "is a terrible idea that will do nothing to improve college sports and may well destroy them."

Citing the potential for the redistribution of athletic revenues, Scott warned of a unionized future in which many Olympic sports and women's teams were eliminated:

[B]ecause the "revenue" sports at most universities support the "non-revenue" sports – including sports such as baseball, soccer, softball, volleyball, swimming, and tennis (which I played while a student at Harvard) — the entire world of intercollegiate athletics as we know it could shrink dramatically because of a lack of resources. Women's sports could be hit particularly hard, which would be a real travesty given all that we have achieved over the last 40 years since the advent of Title IX, especially because it is unknown how "employee" status would intersect with Title IX.

With this demise would come the loss of opportunity for thousands of students who, without athletic scholarships, might never be able to attend college.

There's two problems with Scott's argument, the first being that whether they become employees or not, the Northwestern players and the College Athletes Players Association aren't asking for any change to the current compensation system beyond raising the financial value of the scholarships awarded. The second is that the fate of Olympic sports is unrelated to whether the current system is fair or not to what Scott calls the "small handful [of athletes] that turn pro"; even if those athletes are in the vast minority, is it worth preserving a system that many would argue baldly exploits that handful for the benefit of the vast majority? Scott's column doesn't directly address that issue.

Which is not to say that he's wrong. It's true that the overwhelming number of Division I athletes are helped rather than hurt by the current system. It's true that if making athletes employees results in a redistribution of revenues, cuts could leave non-revenue sports in jeopardy. And it's quite obviously true that it's hard to see any positives, anywhere, from the loss of those kinds of programs.

But in his own media guest column supporting Kain Colter and the CAPA Tuesday, the NFL Players' Association's DeMaurice Smith accused the union movement's critics of a "classic bait-and-switch" argument that ignored the CAPA's actual goals in favor of turning the issue into a black-and-white, pay-for-play debate.

To be fair, Scott does write that the NCAA needs "reform that would reflect the evolving needs of student-athletes, allowing for increased academic support, improved student-athlete health care, and enhanced athletic scholarships up to the full cost of attendance." But he then asserts that the NCAA can handle those reforms without any need for union involvement, and then invokes the specter of mass Olympic program shutdowns to support his point.

It's not quite "shut up and play," as Smith chracterized the anti-union arguments. But it does feel like Scott has oversimplified the issue, and in ignoring any positives for a more organized athletic voice in favor of overheated "may well destroy them"-type rhetoric, his column borders on outright fearmongering. Scott, Mark Emmert and the rest of the NCAA's allies are (obviously) welcome to oppose the CAPA movement, but it would be nice if they could do so by discussing its members as flesh-and-blood athletes looking for a better athletics experience, for once, rather than a set of ticking nuclear bombs out to detonate the entire college athletics landscape.

 
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