Dr. AJ Moore has written for a number of publications, such as the Philadelphia Inquirer and LA Times. He is also a frequent contributor to Basketball Times and the YES Network’s website. Moore is an associate professor of journalism at Rider, where he teaches public relations and business of sports classes. The Rider News (TRN) sat down with Moore to discuss the recent decision by the Chicago District of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that allows Northwestern University’s football athletes to unionize.
TRN: Northwestern’s football team recently won the right to unionize and it could get all sorts of benefits. What does all this mean?
Moore: Well, the Chicago NLRB gave approval for Northwestern to unionize. What benefits they would get — that would be bargained with their “employee.” You can imagine what the benefits would be, but that would still be determined, and as much as this is a breakthrough case, it would still have to go through appeals — local, state, and then federal appeals. But ultimately, it would go in front of the NLRB, which is Obama appointees who are very pro-union, so it looks favorable for them in the long haul.
TRN: So you’re saying this could probably wind up in the Supreme Court?
Moore: Well, Supreme Court possibly, but it’s definitely going to be appealed and looked at by the NLRB.
TRN: Do you think that certain college athletes should be paid for their athletic ability?
Moore: No, I oppose it. I think the tuition, room and board, what they get is very valuable. What I think can happen is that they increase stipends given to players, per diems that they give to players. I think they should allow players to profit from their image, or their autograph. The individual players — they should look more at insurance for the players, but payment of salary and calling them employees — I think that’s ridiculous.
TRN: So you also don’t think they should have the right to strike, or anything else along those lines?
Moore: Well that’s one of the “cans of worms” that you open if you call them employees and you unionize them. Then you give them the power to strike, which is beyond a foolish thought.
TRN: Do you think at some point during these times when the appeal is going to be heard by local and state governments that this decision will be reversed?
Moore: I don’t think it would be reversed because of the NLRB being Obama appointees. I don’t think it would be reversed because of that. I also think there’s public sentiment that doesn’t look favorably upon the NCAA. I think political appointees, as well as political climate, are not in favor of the NCAA.
TRN: Northwestern is a Division I private school like Rider. Do you see any effects for Rider?
Moore: Well, effects, other than it can set the way for other private universities to go, but I do believe it sets out what might happen 10-15 years from now. Right now we have Division I, Division II, Division III separating, Rider being Division I, the same as Northwestern, the same as the Big 10, but obviously they compete at different economic levels. I think what we’ll see is the delineation in the future won’t be Division I, II or III. It will be the schools that pay their players versus the schools that don’t pay their players.
TRN: If Rider had its own union, it wouldn’t have to join Northwestern’s, correct? Or would there be something like a Division I union?
Moore: That’s a good question, and that would be something that has to be determined. Obviously, the group that spearheaded the Northwestern association is looking to be the big power player in possible unions. So, they certainly would make a push to have everybody come under their union umbrella, like you see with the autoworkers or the culinary workers.
TRN: So, if these athletes get injured while playing, these schools would have to take out an insurance policy on each player? Wouldn’t that be huge?
Moore: Yeah, I think the NCAA, as much as I am opposed to treating the players like employees, and as much as I am opposed to the players unionizing, the NCAA is at fault. They should have granted more insurance policies. They should have granted more savings and allowed the players to have a little bit more financial responsibility. So the NCAA, instead of giving a little to the players, they’re going to wind up getting punished a lot at the back end. If they were a little bit more accepting of insurance policies and compensating players for their autograph, I think it wouldn’t have come to this.
TRN: Rider doesn’t have a football team, but it could still have a union based on, say the basketball team or the baseball team, correct?
Moore: Yeah, you can see the problem that they’re talking about football, but what does that mean to volleyball? What does that mean to men’s track, women’s swimming? That’s why I’m saying the delineation will come from the revenue-generating schools that will be able to have football and basketball cover all expenses of non-revenue sports.
TRN: And can this go back to the recent events, like the whole Johnny Manziel Texas A&M quarterback autograph scandal situation where the NCAA tried to catch him signing autographs, as well as the whole NCAA football video game situation? Because of that, there are no more NCAA video games on the market.
Moore: That’s what it was. If the NCAA was more willing to allow players to get compensation for their likeness, for their image, for their autograph, I don’t think they would have faced this extreme retaliation from the players. So, that’s why the NCAA is to blame.
TRN: And on the terms of Rider, say all these effects do go through, what effects do you see? Do you see at some point a strike happening by the Division I athletes and how does this hurt Rider if that’s the case?
Moore: I can never see a place like Rider having a players’ strike because the athletes who are coming here are doing it for academic reasons. The striking would be at a place like Michigan and a place like Notre Dame where players have immense financial value to the university. Schools where athletics are not generating as much finances, I don’t think the players would strike because they don’t have the leverage. Players at Kentucky, at Florida, at Alabama, they’ve got leverage so they can strike.
TRN: But at those schools, can you see a case where a strike can affect all audiences, young and old, fans of college football and college basketball?
Moore: Absolutely. It’s going to affect the media product we all enjoy. I also think it’s going to have detrimental impact on non-revenue sports because the NCAA basketball tournament and the NCAA bowl games help subsidize all the non-revenue sports. They subsidize not only the rest of Division I, but all the way down to Division II and III. So, if you start impacting that financial trickle down, then eventually you are going to see more disappearance of non-revenue sports, which means there are going to be fewer athletes playing. So, it’s going to impact what we see with our football and basketball, but it’s also going to impact the cross country team, the volleyball team, the swimming team down the road.
TRN: And this could impact Princeton, who’s a part of the Ivy, and TCNJ, who’s Division III?
Moore: Sure. TCNJ’s basketball program, as an example, I don’t even know if they charge to come to their games. But whatever money they generate is a pittance, and it certainly doesn’t cover costs. So, how are they able to play? Because of all the money generated from the Division I basketball tournament. There’s big chunks of money that then go to Division II schools and Division III schools to support their athletics. So, sure Division III TCNJ basketball will be impacted if the current business plan and current business market of Division I sports is impacted. It’s going to be felt all the way down.
Interview conducted by Thomas Albano