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30 March 2014

Student-athletes need better benefits

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College athletes are students, but they’re also employees. That’s what the National Labor Relations Board ruled Wednesday when it reviewed whether these athletes have the right to unionize.

This confirmation of Northwestern University football players’ right to form a labor union means they can finally bargain for the benefits and flexibility that they deserve.

Some argue that having tuition, room and board covered is payment enough, but it’s not just about the money.

It’s about making sure athletes are able to live a comfortable lifestyle while attending college and after graduating.

College athletes receive their athletic scholarship and a small stipend for outside expenses.

But for many who have come from underprivileged backgrounds, $200 or $300 a week is not enough to even satisfy their large appetites during the dining hall’s off-hours – the only time they’re not at practice or in class.

This could be solved if student-athletes at least had the opportunity to earn more money for themselves.

The NCAA restricts student-athletes from holding a job, selling autographs and signing outside sponsorship deals.

It is true that, in exchange for playing sports for the university, they receive a degree, but a degree is not the same as a quality education.

Unfair grading, easy majors and other advantages are hurting athletes, not helping them.

The image of a final paper by a University of North Carolina football player went viral recently because he “earned” an “A-” for writing 10 poorly written sentences.

UNC has also been scrutinized for its African and Afro-American Studies department, which essentially let football and men’s basketball players reach graduation without attending real classes.

Here at the University of Miami, many athletes graduate with a liberal arts degree; they don’t even need to have a major as long as they’ve completed general education requirements and enough credits.

And some athletes who wish to study something that they’re passionate about are funneled into easier study tracks for convenience. For instance, athletes have been told they could not study majors such as engineering or some of the sciences.

The NCAA has set in place such rigid standards that colleges have been forced to structure their student-athletes’ lives beyond reason.

If students on a full academic scholarship have the right to tutor their peers in math or English, why can’t someone on an athletic scholarship at least give baseball or basketball lessons to earn some extra spending money? The NCAA says the purpose is to keep student-athletes at an amateur status, but preventing them from using their talents to help others is unfair and unnecessary.

Athletes deserve more rights and more flexibility. Their new right to bargain for greater benefits is a start.

Student-athletes who know how to manage their time should be able to take on an additional job, and they certainly deserve to profit off their likeness if they’ve shown that they are talented enough to make a name for themselves. If jerseys are sold with their names printed on the backs, then the athletes should receive some of the profits.

They should also be able to bargain for reasonable living stipends and even health care that extends past graduation if they sustain injuries while playing for the university.

If student-athletes are expected to work so hard and dedicate themselves so fully to the athletics department, then the university must make the experience livable and learnable.

Part of this comes from the academic preparation athletes should be receiving in college.

We hope to see student-athletes reap more benefits, which doesn’t need to be the hotly contested pay-for-play solution.

Until these students are acknowledged for being the true athletes that they are, universities must also prepare them to be something else, in case they don’t make it in the professional leagues. At the very least, if schools don’t want to compensate their student-athlete employees better, they should return to emphasizing the athletes’ academics as much as their sports.

Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.