Northwestern lawsuit a long time coming

Updated: Thursday, March 27, 2014
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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - As reported Wednesday, the world of college sports turned upside down when the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago ruled that football players at Northwestern University could be considered employees.

As a result, the ruling said those players had a right to form a union and bargain collectively.

Tonight in Tom's Corner, Tom Van Howe says it was something the NCAA should have seen coming a long time ago.

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There has been a lot of instant--sometimes hysterical--analysis over what this development will mean to college sports programs all across the United States.

If players are paid, does this mean lesser programs like baseball and track will be shut down? Will players have to pay taxes on their scholarships?

Will schools like Western and Central Michigan be able to afford it? Will football at smaller colleges have to cash it in?

Except for the tax question--and the answer to that is no; scholarships are "grants in aid" and therefore not taxable--nobody knows for sure what going to happen.

But man, this has been a long time in coming.

Take a look! Major college basketball and football is a multi-billion dollar industry. This weekend at sports venues around the country, lots of millionaires will be gathering to watch the games of the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. Among them will be coaches, conference administrators, advertisers--they're paying 700 grand for a 30 second spot right now--NCAA execs, video game producers, broadcasters, broadcast executives, the owners of professional teams, and the list goes on.

This is huge. This is an arena where money gets tossed around as casually as a pair of dirty socks.

Basketball and football coaches are regularly among the highest paid people in their states, and at the center of it all, the raw material for all this entertainment, are the players--some of whom will go pro, most of whom will not.

Many of whom don't have an extra dime in their pockets.

Meantime, take a look at the profits. Not revenue, but profits, as reported by some of the biggest  football schools:

  • University of Texas - Nearly $80 million dollars.
  • University of Michigan - More than $60 million dollars.
  • University of Georgia - More than $50 million.
  • University of Alabama - $51 million.

You get the idea.

But if one of the players on any one of those teams gets ten extra bucks for signing a jersey--a jersey sold, for profit, by his own university--it can be ground for dismissal or expulsion.

I know they're getting scholarships. And they are not to be taken lightly. It's a wonderful opportunity. But the NLRB ruling says it is clear the players are recruited for their athletic ability, not because of their achievements in the classroom.

And they spend much more time on the football field than they do in class. It goes to employee status.

Administrators at Northwestern, to the joy of college administrators everywhere, are appealing the NLRB ruling.

The whole thing  could wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

But the legal process is grindingly slow. And it'll take time.

But here's the curious  reality to all this. Here's what the suit is actually asking for. And it's not for more money.

The players want financial coverage for former players who suffer from sports-related injuries.
 
They want independent concussion experts on the sidelines during games. And they want the creation of an educational trust fund to help former players graduate.

That's the thrust of it. Measured. Reasonable. Logical. Doesn't seem like too much to ask for.

And the NCAA could have done all of that a long time ago. In addition, the NCAA could have come up with a formula for player stipends, for example, so there would be no need to for one of them to sell an autograph for a little spending money.

The television networks CBS and TBS have paid the NCAA more than a mind-boggling $10 billion for the rights to broadcast the games of the March Madness tournament.

With all that money, you'd think the NCAA might have found a way to loosen its iron grip on all the revenue producing athletes under its control. To achieve a little balance. To make things fair.

If it had, the Northwestern lawsuit may never have been filed. And we wouldn't be speculating on all the ruling's very real universe-rattling ramifications.

But with its eye on profit, the dictatorial NCAA dropped the ball. College sports will never be quite the same.

In this corner...I'm Tom Van Howe.

Business News

Last Update on March 27, 2015 17:24 GMT

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The Commerce Department says the overall economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, grew at an annual rate of 2.2 percent in the October-December period, an estimate that was unchanged from a month ago. The economy had surged at a 5 percent rate in the third quarter.

The final look at fourth quarter GDP found consumer spending was stronger than previously estimated but business restocking was weaker.

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The University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index slipped to 93 this month from 95.4 in February. Richard Curtin, chief economist for the survey, notes that despite the monthly drop, consumer optimism was the highest in a decade for the first three months of 2015.

Sentiment dropped most this month among low-income households, which are especially sensitive to high utility bills in the winter. Confidence rose for mid- and high-income households. Curtin predicted that an improving job market would boost consumer spending the rest of the year.

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European airlines, including the Lufthansa Group that includes Germanwings, have been making commitments to implement the measure after it emerged that the co-pilot of Germanwings Flight 9525 had apparently locked himself in the cockpit to crash the plane.

U.S. airlines revamped their policies regarding staffing in the cockpit following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. But the procedure is not standard in Europe or Canada.

The European Aviation Safety Agency's executive director, Patrick Ky, says "while we are still mourning the victims, all our efforts focus on improving the safety and security of passengers and crews."

The president of the German pilots union Cockpit tells The Associated Press that his organization would support measures requiring two people in the cockpit at all times during flights, but he cautions that such a move wouldn't solve all security problems.

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That's giving some heft to China's frequent complaints that Washington wants to contain its rise as a world power.

One of America's closest friends in Asia, South Korea, announced Thursday it will join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The institution is intended to help finance construction of roads and other infrastructure.

The U.S. has expressed concern that the new bank will allow looser lending standards, undercutting the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, where the U.S. and Japan have the most clout.

But since Britain broke with Washington two weeks ago, other major European economies have signed up for the Chinese-led bank. Australia also appears poised to join.

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Greece's alternate minister for international economic relations says his government is prepared for a "rupture" with the country's creditors if its current bailout negotiations don't go well.

Euclid Tsakalotos said Friday the government would not be negotiating properly if it didn't envisage a rupture with its partners, although he would not say what exactly a rupture might entail.

Greece's government is in talks with its creditors -- eurozone nations, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund -- to unlock urgently needed funds from the country's bailout. It must present a list of reforms by early next week, which it hopes will lead to the disbursement.

Tsakalotos, speaking on private Star TV, said the government was intentionally creating ambiguity with its partners regarding its intentions as a negotiating tactic.

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Jurors deciding the outcome of a much-watched gender discrimination lawsuit against a prestigious Silicon Valley venture capital firm are set to enter their third day of deliberations.

The jury of six men and six women are due back in San Francisco Superior Court on Friday in Ellen Pao's lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Pao says the firm discriminated against her because she was a woman and then retaliated by denying her a promotion and firing her when she complained about gender bias.

Kleiner Perkins denies the allegations and says Pao had a history of conflicts with colleagues that contributed to the decision to let her go.

The case has put a spotlight on gender imbalance and working conditions for women in Silicon Valley.

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The U.S. has drastically cut imports in recent years and transformed itself into the world's biggest producer of oil and natural gas by tapping huge reserves in shale rock formations. But the National Petroleum Council's study predicts that the shale boom won't last much beyond the next decade.

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson chaired the committee that drafted the study. He says oil companies need to start probing the Artic because it takes decades of preparation and drilling to bring oil to market.

Geologists estimate the Arctic holds about a quarter of the world's undiscovered conventional oil and gas deposits. But environmental advocates say the Arctic ecosystem is too fragile to risk a spill.

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A White House official says Rafael Moure-Eraso (rah-fah-YEL' moh-RAY' eh-RAH'-soh) stepped down Thursday at the administration's request. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters.

The National Safety Council says the independent federal agency under Moure-Eraso repeatedly fell under scrutiny for board departures, delayed investigations and other issues. Members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee had accused Moure-Eraso of violating his oath of office and the law. Committee members had requested his resignation.

The board is responsible for investigating chemical accidents. Its members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

President Barack Obama has nominated Vanessa Sutherland to succeed Moure-Eraso.

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