Following a federal decision that ruled football players at Northwestern University count as employees, UF President Bernie Machen is looking for ways to get the university’s student athletes paid.

Football players from Northwestern petitioned the university to allow them to unionize, which the Chicago National Labor Relations Board ruled in favor of. Peter Ohr, the board’s regional director, found student athletes receiving grant-in-aid scholarships are employees of the university, giving them the right to unionize.

During last week’s Board of Trustees meeting, Machen discussed what the decision means for UF.

Machen said that he’s been involved in negotiations with the National Collegiate Athletic Association about the organization’s cap on athletic scholarships for about a year.

The NCAA limits how much a university can award student athletes, which Machen said ranges from $15,000 to $16,000 — which falls $5,000 short of UF’s roughly $21,000 average annual cost of attendance.

He said for the past 10 to 15 years, revenues from athletics have been steadily increasing, but most of that money goes to facilities and coaches’ salaries.

Along with the flow of money going toward support systems instead of students, he said the amount student athletes are being paid hasn’t changed in roughly 20 years.

“The irony is that we can pay more for an academic scholarship than we can for an athletic scholarship,” he said.

While negotiations are still underway, Machen has been exploring several options with five of the six football conferences to give more aid to student athletes. Paying athletes stipends and increasing academic support are both on the table.

Machen isn’t just looking to support football players. He wants to expand payment and support for all of the university’s athletes.

“There wouldn’t be just putting more money on the table,” he said. “It would be providing incentives, taking care of these athletes, making sure that they are able to get educated however it needs to be done.”

Although the conferences have been pushing for more autonomy when compensating student athletes, the NCAA took a stand against the federal decision.

“While not a party to the proceeding, the NCAA is disappointed that the NLRB Region 13 determined the Northwestern football team may vote to be considered university employees,” Donald Remy, the chief legal officer for the association, wrote in a statement. “We strongly disagree.”

[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 4/1/2014 under the headline "Machen aims to pay athletes"]

(2) comments


Just tossing out a few questions. There are many more parts and questions of the equation!

Why does the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) exist? What is the purpose of the NCAA?

Billions of dollars are involved every year with University Sports Programs throughout the country, without forgetting Las Vegas.

Would unionization of college athletes (not just football athletes), allow them to walk out during the 'FINAL FOUR' (basketball athletes), if their wages were not increased?

What is your University's primary goal, looking and searching for 'The Best and Brightest', academically speaking? Or, is your University's primary goal, looking and searching for 'The Best and Most Talented Athletes'? The scales tip in one direction or the other!

Should student athletes be provided a 'Full Scholarship' that pays for books, tuition, room and board, plus a few 100 dollars for entertainment, throughout the semester?

Is it a problem when the 'TALK' is about student athletes getting 'PAID' to play one or more college sports? What does getting 'PAID' mean? Considering billions of dollars are involved. Does it mean a 'FULL SCHOLARSHIP' or ten's or possibly, hundreds of thousands of dollars per college student athlete?

A few school's can afford to pay very large amounts of money to current and potential college athletes, other university's can Not provide such large wages to current and potential college athletes. Is that fair?

Why does the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) exist? What is the purpose of the NCAA?

Are college student athletes, first college students, then college athletes? And not the other way around?

When you were accepted to the University of Florida, did it take good grades in high school, and also high scores on the SAT or ACT? As students, do you have the right to unionize? If students were unionized, could they ask for money, if they have bad or poor professors?


I don't think there's anything ironic about awarding academic prowess at a university. If it's all about money (and it always is), I wonder about the return the University receives for its athletes. How many pro athletes who attended UF have made donations to the university? And what does that number look like when compared to students who attended for academic reasons?

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