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Sulphur native Bruce Hemphill was introduced as McNeese State's athletic director on Thursday. (Rick Hickman / American Press)

Sulphur native Bruce Hemphill was introduced as McNeese State's athletic director on Thursday. (Rick Hickman / American Press)

McNeese athletic director has eyes on union case

Last Modified: Tuesday, April 01, 2014 11:15 AM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

As the Northwestern football players looking to form a union cleared their first legal hurdle last week, McNeese State Athletic Director Bruce Hemphill had his eyes and thoughts glued to the fine print.

Last Wednesday the Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern players qualify as employees of the university and can unionize.

It is a potentially game-changing decision in college sports.

Peter Sung Ohr, the regional director of the NLBR, came down on the side of the players.

In his ruling, Ohr wrote that the players “fall squarely within the (National Labor Relations) Act’s broad definition of ‘employee’ when one considers the common law definition of ‘employee.’ ”

While both sides scrambled to fall in line, and appeals were being raced into action, few questions were really answered with Ohr’s ruling. Instead, there are more layers to this story that must be torn off, according to Hemphill.

“Many, many, many more questions need to be answered,” Hemphill said.

Everyone agrees there will be plenty of time to get a look into this.

“It could take years before any action is really taken,” Hemphill said. “There are going to be appeals and counter lawsuits.”

This story will likely end up before the Supreme Court.

For now the simple truth is nobody knows what’s going to happen. One thing is for sure, the landscape continues to change.

“We will keep a close eye on this like we do on everything else,” Hemphill said. “We have to see where it is going to go and then we will have to be able to adjust.”

The players believe it is a clear victory in their fight to be paid; however, becoming an employee does not protect them as they have been before.

As of now no player can lose his scholarship during the season. An employee can be fired, however.

There is also the fact that the players would likely have to pay for their own educations, be hit with taxes and a salary cap and have to buy their own shoes, perhaps.

“There are a lot of things that are out there,” Hemphill said. “A lot of things would change, that’s for sure.”

One of the big changes might come in how much time players would practice. Right now the NCAA has a limit on how many hours a player can be on the practice field.

As an employee the shift could be eight hours a day, leaving far less time to study.

And, yes, some athletes do study.

Just how many athletes would be a part of this union is also in question.

Right now it’s only football players at private schools, but what about the public universities. If their players get into the game then they are university employees and have to follow school and state standards.

And what about the other sports, like women’s tennis or baseball, those that don’t make money for the school. In the true business world they would be tossed aside as divisions of a company that are no longer profitable.

Thousands of kids who use partial scholarships to pay for college with little hope of making it big in the pros will never get that chance at an education.

And nobody has even started to talk about the smaller universities or the huge number of people who work in those athletic departments. Their futures would also be at stake.

“You just don’t know where it will end,” Hemphill said.

Yes, college athletics needs to change. Far too many are getting rich and leaving others behind.

I just hope they don’t kill the golden goose for a bigger piece of the egg.

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