60 Minutes: College 'Sweatshops'?

Union Muscle Gets Behind New College Athletes Association

An epithet once reserved for workplaces teeming with the exploited is now being hurled at big-time college athletics.

United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard calls the National Collegiate Athletic Association a “sweatshop” for not taking care of its athletes. Gerard, in a 60 Minutes interview to be broadcast Sunday, says he doesn’t believe the sweatshop moniker is going too far.

“The club takes very good care of itself. It doesn’t take very good care of the student athletes,” he tells Correspondent Lesley Stahl. “The club is the folks at the top,” says Gerard, referring to the beneficiaries of the billions of dollars generated by NCAA sports like football and basketball. Among them is CBS, which broadcasts NCAA sports.

Gerard has thrown the steelworkers' union muscle behind a group called the Collegiate Athletes Coalition, which is seeking to change some of the NCAA rules it regards as unfair. One such rule prohibits insurance coverage for athletes at some “voluntary practices.”

Former UCLA linebacker Ramogi Huma, a co-founder of CAC, says at the Division I level, such practices are anything but voluntary: “They call it ‘voluntary’ a lot of times, because you don’t know the difference.”

Huma cited one case in which a University of Florida recruit collapsed during a voluntary summer workout and died later; by NCAA rules, the university was not allowed to cover his hospital costs and his family could not even collect a death benefit.

Brit Kirwan, president of Ohio State and chairman of the NCAA Board of Directors, agrees the insurance problem should be examined, but maintains that colleges should not be pressured by union-like groups such as the CAC, which wants student athletes treated like employees.

“I think it would be the ruination of intercollegiate sports…[it]changes the whole concept,” he tells Stahl. Nevertheless, the NCAA has agreed to at least talk with the CAC.

Kirwan believes athletes should be playing college sports for the academic degree that he thinks student athletes should value over monetary payments.

But Division I football and basketball players, only half of whom graduate, are already quasi-professionals, says James Duderstadt, former president of the University of Michigan who once was a college player. “Coaches are paid millions.…It’s marketed very much like professional entertainment,” he says. “The only thing that’s missing is payment for the players.”

Huma says many athletes need some payment. “College athletes…the vast majority live under the poverty line,” he tells Stahl. Athletic scholarships provide the essentials for education and by NCAA rules, do not provide money for basics like food, clothing and a social life. Many college athletes’ families do not have extra money to make this up.

“We’r not given enough money to survive, by definition,” says Huma. Even the NCAA admits scholarships fall $2,000 per year short of what the athletes need to get by.

Gerard knows the athletes don’t want to strike, but he tells Stahl some public exposure could get the NCAA to pay more attention to the problem. “The NCAA is no longer some poor little operation.…It’s bringing in billions and billions of dollars and what we’re saying is ‘let’s do something to improve the lot of the athletes that are generating this for us,’” he says.

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