An invisible union for an invisible labor market: College football and the union substitution effect

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Should college football players have collective bargaining rights? The National Collegiate Athletic Association's (NCAA) contractual relationship with student-athletes provides scholarships while limiting the athletes' earnings. This model is premised on the belief that players are amateurs. But this view is contradicted by the heavy commercialization of NCAA football. Meanwhile, football players do not receive enough aid to pay their full cost of attending school. This Article theorizes that college football players participate in an invisible labor market, where the NCAA is a monopsony purchaser of their labor and strictly allocates these market inputs to regulate competitive balance between schools. I propose a unique and limited form of collective bargaining for college football that is consistent with the NCAA's amateur athlete model. This proposal does not involve wage negotiations or strikes, but allows players to bargain over scholarship shortfalls, extended or improved educational benefits, complete medical and hospital insurance for football-related injuries, long-term disability insurance for injuries such as brain trauma, transfer and eligibility rights not inconsistent with NCAA rules, and a grievance process to challenge abusive treatment by coaches and administrators. This proposal also draws from industrial relations research on the "union substitution" effect, which shows that when employers face a credible threat of unionization they provide more voice and benefits to employees. If state or federal lawmakers proposed this type of representation for college football players, this would be enough to stimulate a robust union substitution effect-that is, the NCAA would likely be pressured to provide players a voice in their own affairs and be more responsive to their own concerns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1077-1136
Number of pages60
JournalWisconsin Law Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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