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Michigan Rep. Introduces Bill to Prevent the State’s College Athletes from Unionizing

Rep. Pscholka

Rep. Pscholka

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A bill introduced by Rep. Al Pscholka (R) would disallow student athletes at Michigan public universities from being recognized as employees of the university or unionizing under the state’s collective bargaining laws.  The move is a response to the national movement of college athletes looking to unionize.  

In March, a regional NLRB director granted the Northwestern University football team the right to organize.  The university is currently appealing the decision.

Rep. Pscholka said he put the bill forward in response to demands from university presidents, according to

House Bill 6074 would require all student-athletes be classified as “students” and keep them from becoming employees of universities. Because the student-athletes could not be classified as public employees, they would not be entitled to representation or collective bargaining rights under state law.

In a statement, Pscholka said:

“Less than 2 percent of men’s basketball and football student-athletes go on to compete professionally in their sport.

Student-athletes are still students, and playing sports is an extracurricular activity, so the emphases should be placed on the education part of that equation.”

Voices, including the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, have joined the Northwestern players’ call for workers’ rights. Abdul-Jabbar’s op-ed for Jacobin Magazine lays out an argument in favor of college athletes unionizing, which speaks to his time at UCLA. Many athletes felt they were being exploited, he writes, and pondered unioization:

The worst part is that nothing much has changed since my experience as a college athlete almost forty years ago. Well, one thing has changed: the NCAA, television broadcasters, and the colleges and universities are making a lot more money.

• The NCAA rakes in nearly $1 billion annually from its March Madness contract with CBS and Turner Broadcasting.
• The NCAA president made $1.7 million in 2012.
• The ten highest paid coaches in this year’s March Madness earn between $2,627,806 and $9,682,032.

Management argues that student-athletes receive academic scholarships and special training worth about $125,000. While that seems like generous compensation, it comes with some serious restrictions:

• College athletes on scholarship are not allowed to earn money beyond the scholarship. Yet students on academic scholarships are allowed to earn extra money.
• The NCAA allows the scholarship money to be applied only toward tuition, room and board, and required books. On average, this is about $3,200 short of what the student need.
• Academic scholarships provide for school supplies, transportation, and entertainment. Athletic scholarships do not.
• Athletic scholarships can be taken away if the player is injured and can’t contribute to the team anymore. He or she risks this possibility every game.
• The injustice worsens when we realize that the millionaire coaches are allowed to go out and earn extra money outside their contracts. Many do, acquiring hundreds of thousands of dollars a year beyond their already enormous salaries.

Abdul-Jabbar’s argument is strong, but there remaims much debate about how to fit these commercial interests into the collegiate academic structure.  Rep. Pscholka relies on this angle to argue against unionization:

“The discussion of this issue really begs an answer to the bigger question: What is the intended purpose of college?” Pscholka said. “Is it about making money, or is it about getting an education? Are student-athletes to learn, guaranteeing the best shot at future success in life? Or are they enrolled as employees just there to pull in money and attention to the university?”

Read Abdul-Jabbar’s entire op-ed here.


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