An anonymous overclass of university officials and administrators have spent years using the body-breaking labor of young athletes, and the soul-crushing labor of young academics, to siphon billions out of the American economy.
With the National Labor Relations Board granting collective-bargaining rights to graduate student working as assistants, though, the have-nots doing the work can finally peel something off the haves.
So far, it's been an easy hustle: Universities soak their customers for all the tuition they can borrow, and TV carriers for as much in sports rights fees as they're willing to bid. Administrators then turn around and pay teachers as little as the law allows (or even less), and compensate the athletes with nothing but the college experience.
With athletic scholarships and the cost-of-attendance stipends allowed by the NCAA providing a natural cap, that experience has to be awesome in order to attract top athletic talent and keep the golden goose well-fed—and Clemson University, as The State's Matt Connolly recently detailed, is about to raise the awesomeness bar to celestial heights.
Their $55 million, 140,000-square-foot football facility, slated to open next year, features far more than a locker room shagadelic enough to make Austin Powers blush. Amenities include a barbershop, a bowling alley, laser tag, billiards, ping pong, basketball hoops, a mini-golf course and indoor golf simulator, plus a 24-seat HD theater. The state-of-the-art training facilities include a 20,000-square-foot weight room, five pools, a nutrition center, and even a dedicated nap room.
Outrageous facilities like this are popping up all over the country; meanwhile, in the buildings dedicated to providing the actual learning part of the student-athlete experience, conditions are a little grimmer. Even TAs who've graduated to adjunct professorship are desperately cobbling together part-time work, making ends meet with government assistance, working themselves to the bone with zero job security and even less hope for tenure.
After the NLRB ruled in favor of student assistants at Columbia University earlier this week, NPR reported that "only a small fraction of graduate students at public universities are currently represented by unions—but the decision governing private university students is expected to lead to unionization efforts that could organize tens of thousands more."
So what's the first thing Power Five teachers should do with their newfound bargaining power? Demand free use of the football facilities.
Sure, they may still use second-hand mopeds to zip back and forth from the ivy-covered halls to the community college across town, but teachers' job satisfaction will skyrocket as they work out in a more luxurious gym than their entire monthly pay could ever have afforded. They'll add value to the players' experience, too, working alongside them in their own element, and teaching them valuable life skills like how to file for SNAP benefits, register for ACA-backed health insurance, or Prime themselves a case of the good ramen.
As athletes laser-tag and power-nap alongside the starving academics who keep them eligible, more will realize that the NCAA is divvying up a revenue pot nearly as big as the NFL's—and that the theme-park facilities they're enjoying were built with what should be their salaries. It could have a chain reaction that in turn compels student athletes to make demands of their own. (And maybe this time the NLRB will flip-flop back on their side.)
As football players form putt-putt foursomes with unionized professors, the young men who see their likenesses splashed everywhere from TV to Snapchat might finally do more than just wonder why they spend all day at Football Disneyland and all night bumming pizza slices off fellow students.
Even if the teachers' demands for entry into the cash-factory facilities don't resonate and the football players don't buck the system, don't keep fighting for their labor rights, there's still good to come from it. Worst-case scenario? Maybe exploited student-athletes actually learn something at school.