When Connecticut defeated Kentucky in the national title game earlier this month, Huskie fans were not the only ones cheering. Regardless of which team came out victorious, athletes from Knox to Augustana to Wisconsin-Platteville were ecstatic to see AT&T Stadium packed to the gills. The NCAA’s greatest source of revenue comes from the Final Four, and it is from the event that Division III athletes also benefit. If Knox baseball were to make it out of the Midwest Conference Tournament, it is the Final Four money that would help fund our trip to national tournament events. That is our piece of the pie.
This is important to note because neither I nor any other Division III athlete is in any position to ask for more. We do not receive scholarships, we do not have video game companies clamoring to use our likenesses, we don’t have the right to unlimited snacks and meals like Shabazz Napier and all of Division I and we do not have crowds of 75,000 paying to watch us play.
All that considered, it is still frustrating to watch the developments in the Northwestern football unionization attempt. Not because I think the players do not have a case (they certainly do), but because it displays the disconnect between NCAA athletes. When former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter talks about how playing football was like having a full-time job, he makes it seem that somehow makes Division I athletes are special in that regard. I’m not claiming we spend more time on playing our sports than Northwestern football, but Division III athletes devote significant amounts of time to their sports, and do it because a huge chunk of who they are as individuals would be gone without playing.
Sometimes I get the sense that Division I football and basketball players underappriciate what a privilege it is to be receiving the scholarship in the first place.
Now like I said, the players still have a case; those scholarships can be revoked at any time and the amount of money universities make off their players is mindblowing. But there is one argument that Northwestern has made a priority that I think needs to be presented differently.
Colter has repeatedly used phrasing that has emphasized that the players are not just in this for the cash grab, but also to ensure their health and safety. It is not absurd to believe Division I athletes deserve extended insurance benefits, but in doing so one must also be in favor of expansion across all levels.
Injuries happen whether you are on scholarship for a Big Ten school or paying tuition while in the Knosher Bowl against Eureka. If Northwestern football players really cared about the game they play and not just the money, then they would be arguing on behalf of all NCAA athletes including those not on scholarships.
This is just one kink that the players will have to iron out with their representatives as the movement continues to expand (tax implications being at the forefront). And if the players do not vote in favor of unionizing on Friday everything will be for naught anyway.
As of now, I will continue to thank CBS for paying the NCAA billions of dollars to broadcast the Final Four. It’s a lot easier riding in tour buses than driving in vans.