College athletes' advocate ready for Knight Commission meeting
MAR 08, 2014 11:00a ET
Ramogi Huma is the founder and president of the National College Players Association. He has been advocating the cause of student-athletes since 2001. The issue of compensation for college athletes has come to the forefront and will be discussed at the Knight Commission meeting on March 17 in Miami.
Huma played college football at UCLA. He is a champion for the rights of student athletes, believing they should be compensated for their efforts on the field as well as receiving the educational benefits that a student-athlete scholarship provides. While student athletes education lasts a lifetime so do some of the injuries of playing collegiate athletics. Huma also believes the NCAA should implement a benefits package providing medical coverage and additional assistance as well.
Huma also serves as the President for the recently formed College Athletes Players Association (CAPA), which is helping Northwestern football players form a union. CAPA hopes to create an equitable policy for all student athletes, across the spectrum of collegiate sports who bring millions of dollars into their educational institutions.
FOXSports.com was able to catch up with Huma for an interview as he prepares for his date with the Knight Commission.
What progress have you seen in the movement?
Since I began publicly advocating for college athletes' rights in 2001, I've seen a shift in public opinion concerning NCAA sports. America has become aware of unjust NCAA rules and how they negatively impact college athletes. Most people are outraged that injured players can be left to pay sports-related medical bills, can lose their scholarships when they're injured, and are subject to unnecessary brain trauma risks. NCAA sports has reached a tipping point and comprehensive reform is now within college athletes' reach.
Northwestern has been front and center player-wise. What other schools/players are involved. How big has this groundswell been?
We are not commenting on these issues at this time.
What, if any, interaction have you had with the NCAA and individual institutions?
In the past, every NCAA President since 2001 has refused to meet with us, despite the fact that we represent the only independent voice for thousands of college athletes. Interactions with universities have taken place primarily when they have opposed our efforts to pass new laws to protect college athletes. Since our Northwestern effort, the NCAA released a statement with the same poor arguments we've heard for the last several decades. Though we disagree with Northwestern about whether or not their football players are employees, our interactions with Northwestern have been professional and without hostility. In fact, Northwestern has praised its players for attempting to address important issues concerning their well-being.
What do you hope to gain from the Knight Commission appearance, and what do you look forward to through the Knight Commission event?
NCAA sports has done everything in its power to prevent players from having a seat at the table and is therefore largely out of touch with athletes' needs. There are a number of athletic administrators that will be at the Knight Commission meeting and it's my intention to provide them with the players' perspective on what NCAA reform should look like.
What are the next steps, small goals, large goals, how long of a process do you think this will take?
Currently, we are preparing our legal brief based on the testimony from the Chicago NLRB hearing concerning the Northwestern football players' petition for a union election. Our immediate goal is for the Chicago NLRB Regional Director to rule in our favor by affirming that Northwestern football players are employees with the right to form a union. This decision is expected to be appealed by whoever loses the Chicago NLRB's ruling. Then, the case will move on to the NLRB office in Washington D.C. If we win that ruling, Northwestern could appeal the decision into the federal court system. It's impossible to predict a timeline but we are hopeful for a quick process.
Players come and players go ... college can be a three-year experience, possibly five. how do you see this remaining organized or coming together with such a turnstile membership? Do you think it will be unanimous involvement, or have you met with any resistance from current players?
NFL and NBA players have strong unions despite the fact that their average career is 3-5 years. Therefore, the career of the average college football and basketball player would not prevent unionization. To date, we haven't met any resistance from current players and we are confident that, with time, we will be able collectively bargain on behalf of players across the nation.
What is your ideal scenario for a plan that works for all the players: Equal pay or a system that rewards the better ones? Can you elaborate on what you think would be the fairest system?
My ideal system is one in which college athletes can collectively bargain for physical and financial protections. Ultimately, whatever system emerges will be a product of what both the universities and the players agree upon rather than a system that the universities impose on its players. One of our goals is to reform NCAA rules so that players can receive scholarships that cover the full cost of attendance; and establish an educational trust fund to reward players that graduate on time and finance the continued education of those who do not.
Are there tax concerns regarding players receiving scholarships, should they be paid? If this is all perceived as income, does that create other issues.
College athletes already pay income taxes on the room and board portion of their scholarship, while the tuition, fees, and books part of their scholarship is exempt. This will not change if players' employee status is affirmed. Any additional income that players may ultimately receive could be taxable, but they would receive a net gain compared to their current compensation level.
Anything else you would like to elaborate on?
College athletes should not be forced to give up their rights as a condition of playing NCAA sports. In this case, they have rights under labor laws and have chosen to assert those rights. We are encouraged by the analysis by former NLRB Chairman William Gould who says that our case is strong and that we should prevail. During the hearing, we were able to establish that Northwestern football players were recruited primarily to play football, receive compensation in return for providing a lucrative athletic service, and are subject to extensive university control. Under the National Labor Relations Act, these conditions affirm Northwestern football players' status as employees with the right to unionize.