If you follow college news (as you should!) you probably heard about the huge development in college sports last month — Northwestern University football players are now allowed to unionize, according to a ruling made by a National Labor Relations Board.

Since the ruling was announced, there has been a lot of talk about what this means for the future of college sports. For smaller private schools this may not be an issue, but for many schools, sports are important (and not just on an entertainment level.) Think about it — if your main interests are sports, you’re probably going to apply to a school with a tried and true sports program, wherever your loyalties may lie. If the sports programs at your school go downhill, it’s only a matter of time before athletes go elsewhere, profits drop (which affects the quality of everything else happening on campus) and then student application and retention rates will drop with them.

Basically, when you combine a school with a great sports program, you get millions of dollars. And when you get millions of dollars, you get more opportunities to make your campus and programs better. So sports, even if you personally don’t really care about them, are actually pretty important and for many schools, are a contributing factor to their overall success as an institution. And even if you’d much rather read a book, join the chemistry club, or act in the school musical than go to a football game, if you go to a big school, the sports on your campus still might affect you and your alternative extracurriculars. According to ABC News, “The benefit [of sports] to universities goes beyond the playing surfaces, too. Schools often see a spike in enrollment, alumni contributions and sponsorship opportunities following athletic success.”

They also note that, “figuring out how much revenue comes from these sports is difficult [because] the revenue streams are numerous. According to the Education Department’s latest statistics, all colleges combined to generate $14.3 billion in revenue during the 2012-13 fiscal year. Expenses totaled $13.8 billion, leaving about $500 million in profit, though not every university reported making money.”

And if you think professional sports are really where it’s at in terms of profitability, think again.

“Revenues derived from college athletics is greater than the aggregate revenues of the NBA and the NHL,” said Marc Edelman, associate professor at City University of New York, noting also that Alabama’s athletic revenues last year (totalling approximately $143 million,) surpassed those of all 30 NHL teams, as well as the vast majority of — 25 out of the 30 — NBA teams.

In other words, saying that college sports programs are moneymakers is an understatement.

So, what happens when unions for college athletes become an option? Well, it means that all that money those schools are raking in could be at stake.

“If athletes make any gains through organization of unions and collective bargaining, it’s going to come at the expense of other spending that’s going on in the athletic department. Most of that extra money goes to coaches’ salaries, facility upgrades and recruiting. It’s precisely that spending that makes the university the attractive place that it is to come and play in the first place,” says Rod Fort, co-director at the Michigan Center for Sport Management.

While athletes may be excited about the chance to unionize, it could come at a price that affects not only their athletic careers, but their entire campus, too.

H/T: ABC News

What do you think of unions for college athletes?


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