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Student-Athlete Unions Not In WIU's Immediate Future

TSPR's Rich Egger

Student-athlete unions won’t be coming to Western Illinois University anytime soon. But the possibility is still sparked some debate on campus.

Western’s Athletic Director Tommy Bell says he is against the formation of unions for student-athletes. But he admits they do deserve better representation within the NCAA.

“I believe that we have got to get a process where we do have student’s athletes at the table administratively at every division 1 institution," Bell said. "I think that’s a good first start.”

During a panel discussion Monday night hosted by the Western's Sports Management Association and Department of Kinesology, Bell said he worries unions would create inequality among student athletes.

Dr. Pete Cole teaches labor history at Western. He agrees several factors have to be figured out. But he said the main issue is whether student-athletes are workers. And Cole said they are.  

“You have people who are essentially through their labor creating wealth but sharing very little in it," Cole said. "So in a way it’s no different than textile workers in Bangladesh, right? It’s not so different than auto workers in Tennessee. Whose making the money? You have corporations and the NCAA is technically a not for profit but it acts essentially as a for profit employer because it's putting its interest above the interest of its employees.”

The discussion may be a moot point depending on whether football players at Northwestern University voted in favor of forming a union last Friday. Their decision won’t be known until the National Labor Relations Board reviews the regional office’s ruling that permitted the vote.

The board’s ruling will only affect Northwestern at first but could be applied to all private colleges. Still, Bell said it could be a "game changer."

Emily Boyer is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.