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Republican senators: Unionization 'no solution' for college athletes

Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Richard Burr (N.C.) said collective bargaining rights for college players would stop universities from fielding sports teams. 

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The two lawmakers, who are both former college athletes, discussed the issue at length on the Senate floor Friday. 

"While there may be some issues with intercollegiate athletics, the unionization of intercollegiate athletics is not the solution to the problem," said Alexander, a former track team member at Vanderbilt University. 

A regional director with the National Labor Relation Board ruled last month that scholarship football players at Northwestern University are permitted to unionize because they meet the definition of college employees. 

The players are seeking medical coverage for sports-related care, compensation for sponsorships and a boost in financial help for student athletes. 

They will decide whether to form a union by secret ballot on April 25. Northwestern has appealed the decision. 

The sides disagree about whether student players are compensated enough for their participation in college sports, a multibillion-dollar industry that is highly profitable for some schools. 

Alexander and Burr said that only a handful of athletic programs make money and argued that receiving a college degree should satisfy players. 

"The College Board estimates that a college degree adds $1 million to your earnings during a lifetime, so the idea that student athletes do not receive anything in return for their playing a sport is financially wrong," Alexander said. 

"The value of that education — more than any temporary benefit they might receive while collectively bargaining — will bring a lifetime of higher earnings in their profession," said Burr, a former football player at Wake Forest University.