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NLRB ruling

Posted: March 27, 2014 2:23 p.m.
Updated: March 28, 2014 5:00 a.m.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a fan of the Gamecocks, Tigers, Bulldogs or Wolfpack. The face of college sports could change radically following a ruling earlier this week that football players at Northwestern University have the right to form a labor union. A National Labor Relations Board official ruled that at that academically exclusive school, athletes who receive full scholarships are considered employees under federal law and thus can unionize.

The decision, which will be appealed, has the potential to change the entire structure of big-time college athletics. There are many factors involved in the decision and the plan by football players to gain more benefits, but all of them strike at the heart of the scholarship system, in which gifted athletes are given free rides in return for their prowess on the playing fields -- or courts, or pools, or whichever venue you happen to choose. An NBC poll showed that 91 percent of Americans disagree with the NLRB’s ruling.

There has been controversy for years over the power of college sports -- football in particular -- and the fact that at many schools, a preponderance of girdiron players are admitted under special circumstances which allow them to bypass normal academic guidelines. And there have been startling revelations, among them the scandal at the University of North Carolina in which the chairman of the African-American Studies department held courses in which enrollees didn’t even have to attend class but were rewarded good grades that kept them eligible for football. That professor has since been indicted.

College football -- and basketball, to a lesser degree -- is big business, generating billions of dollars, and it provides entertainment to millions of alumni and other fans. The game could be in for wholesale changes if the NLRB ruling is upheld and athletes begin to unionize.

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