Labor ruling on college athletes a game changer

When the “Sweet 16” round tips off tonight in college basketball’s March Madness, executives at CBS can’t wait – for the first commercial.

The annual hoops championships is not only eagerly anticipated by fans and alumni but by the bean-counters looking to cash in on the 14-year, $10.8 billion deal the network signed with the NCAA for the rights to broadcast the unpaid student-athletes vying for the Holy Grail of college sports. The college basketball  playoffs now eclipse the Super Bowl in terms of commercial revenue for the event, raking in more than $1 billion in ads over the course of the playoffs. The NFL playoffs brought the networks an estimated $990 million. No other professional sports league compares.  

Enjoy it while it lasts, though, because there’s change on the horizon for the meaning of student-athlete. A director of the Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board ruled yesterday that athletes at Northwestern University are employees and have a right to unionize and bargain collectively.

Peter Ohr , the regional director who wrote the 24-page ruling in a case brought by former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter who is turning pro, says the requirements a school places on an athlete in everything from the course schedule to accommodate practice to requirements about who they must friend on their Facebook pages in exchange for their scholarship, go far beyond the expectations of a normal student. Because football players, for instance, spend as much as 50 hours a week in practice and coaches can revoke the scholarship if they desire, the financial aid is akin to a contract.

“”It cannot be said that the employer’s scholarship players are ‘primarily students,’ ” Ohr wrote.

The decision could pave the way for college athletes to begin getting paid for their efforts. When one looks at the basketball revenues and couples that with the $7.1 billion contract spread over the next 10 years the NCAA just signed for the new football playoff format, you’re looking at one of the largest sports enterprises in the nation. Add in the money the NCAA reaps from video games featuring likenesses of past and present players who don’t see a dime – though that’s also being litigated as you read this – the schools’ argument that players are being adequately compensated by being given a college education will not engender a lot of sympathy.

The ruling affects only private colleges and universities; the impact on public schools will vary by whatever state laws say about public sector unions. In Massachusetts, there will be no bar for players at the University of Massachusetts campuses to form a union if the ruling is upheld.

Boston College is the most noteworthy school that could be affected in these parts. According to the US Department of Education, BC last year earned $60.8 million in revenues while handing out $16.5 million in athletic-related financial aid, with football being the biggest money-maker and largest recipient of scholarships.

According to the DOE data, all colleges and universities in the country pulled in an aggregate $14.3 billion in revenues in the 2011-12 school year, the most recent available, while granting $3.1 billion in scholarships. All Massachusetts schools accounted for $325.8 million in revenue while doling out $77.7 million in financial aid, according to the DOE.

While it certainly takes more than athletes to put on a show – coaches’ salaries, venues, travel, meals, etc. – there are no games without someone to play them. With a fresh look at size of the enterprise contrasted with the pittance tossed to athletes who generate the big bucks, it’s hard to see how the paradigm doesn’t change. But it brings up an interesting question: If the players on a football team decided to strike before a big game, can the Delta Tau Chi intramural flag football team sub in as replacements?

–JACK SULLIVAN  

BEACON HILL

State Auditor Suzanne Bump finds many failings dealing with record keeping and storage at the state Department of Children and Families, CommonWealth reports. As the Globe reports, more than two dozen registered sex offenders were found to live at addresses that matched those of foster children under state supervision.

House leaders reject a compromise proposal and push forward with a bill lifting the cap on charter schools, State House News Service reports. More details on the debate are here.

Liquor store owners are divided on bill that would allow them to open earlier on Sundays, the Gloucester Times reports.

The state’s troubled health connector has 84,000 residents on temporary insurance paying no monthly premiums.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A ferocious, wind-whipped fire claims the lives of two Boston firefighters in the Back Bay. Friends share remembrances of Lt. Edward Walsh, a married father of three young children, and Firefighter Michael Kennedy.  

While property tax bills vary widely from town to town, they share one thing: they’re all going up, according to an analysis by the Department of Revenue.

Ending the contract with the developer of the stalled $1.6 billion downtown project in Quincy will shift the burden of repaying a $30 million bond back onto the city.

CASINOS

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh not only declares that Boston is a host community for the proposed casinos in both Revere as well as Everett, he says such a determination is solely up to communities themselves and is not something the state gambling commission is authorized to determine. Area lawyers may soon be hitting the jackpot. Charlestown residents assail Steve Wynn‘s proposed Everett casino.

Saugus loses its appeal to be designated a surrounding community to the proposed Wynn casino in Everett, the Item reports.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Rep. Nicholas Mattiello is voted Rhode Island’s new House speaker, replacing Gordon Fox, who resigned in the wake of a state and federal police raid, the Providence Journal reports.

Charlotte , North Carolina, Mayor Patrick Cannon is arrested for allegedly accepting bribes from undercover FBI agents, the Charlotte Observer reports. In the San Francisco area, meanwhile, a state senator is indicted for public corruption as part of an unfolding FBI operation on gun running, Governing reports. The Washington Post report is here.

It’s true: Cities are back!

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Consumer advocates say Experian, one of the nation’s three main credit reporting agencies, is reaping millions off the Target department store data-breach by luring in victims by offering “free monitoring” then selling higher-priced products that give “a false sense of security.”

Bank of America settles a federal housing lawsuit for $9.5 billion.  

EDUCATION

Over the objections of parents and students, the Boston School Committee approved a $975 million budget that eliminates school bus transportation for seventh and eighth graders.

A UCLA report finds New York‘s schools to be the country’s most segregated.

HEALTH CARE

The looming, surprise closure of the North Adams Regional Hospital has prompted calls for state intervention from health care professionals and local officials. The Berkshire Eagle calls the decision to close “indefensible.”

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Cape Wind has secured another $400 million in financing, bringing to about half of the $2.5 billion needed to build the project.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Former Lawrence mayor William Lantigua and the city’s retired public works director take the Fifth in a corruption trial, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

A Globe editorial blames state judges for repeated, unwarranted acts of leniency toward accused killer Jared Remy. Yvonne Abraham says House Speaker Robert DeLeo is readying a bill that advocates for domestic-violence victims say is a big step in the right direction toward correcting problems with the way domestic abuse cases are handled.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

MEDIA

Nate Silver analyzes New York Times columnist Paul Krugman’s blog comments about the FiveThirtyEight editor in chief and finds the comments have become more negative since he left the Times and joined ESPN.