The world of college athletics received jolt Wednesday afternoon with the news a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board has ruled scholarship football players at Northwestern are employees and should have the right to unionize.
Although the ruling does not apply to public universities, Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith not surprisingly came out against the ruling. At the same time, the OSU wrestling coach came to his boss’ defense after a clause in Smith’s contract caused some controversy earlier this week.
In comments from last week that were published Wednesday, Smith told CBSSports.com he was anxious to talk to OSU student-athletes about changes they would like to see and believed implementing some of those things would be easier with a proposed alteration in the NCAA governance structure that is expected to be put in place.
He also expressed mixed feelings about the role of former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter in the unionization movement.
"There’s one side of me that applauds Colter because you teach our young people to be leaders," Smith told CBSSports.com. "There’s another side of me that felt bad for him because I still think the union people took advantage of him. He got in a spot where he had to misrepresent what was happening at Northwestern, that’s why his teammates pulled away from it. I felt bad for him…I’m not so sure he ever lied, but he was on the edge of what the truth was."
Not surprisingly, the NCAA also issued a statement from its chief legal officer disagreeing with the NLRB ruling.
"While not a party to the proceeding, the NCAA is disappointed that the NLRB Region 13 determined the Northwestern football team may vote to be considered university employees. We strongly disagree with the notion that student-athletes are employees."
Back in Columbus, Buckeye wrestling coach Tom Ryan told Buckeye Sports Bulletin he understands the reaction to the news Smith received an extra week’s pay for the national championship Ohio State wrestler Logan Stieber won over the weekend, but Ryan said the bonus is an appropriate reward for how Smith has set up the program for success.
"Whether anybody on the outside thinks it’s right or wrong, two people made a deal, and the deal was if you run a program of excellence, if you create extraordinary opportunities for young people, you’re going to get rewarded for it, and he’s done that," Ryan said.