COLUMBIA — Former Missouri wide receiver T.J. Moe remembers when his teammates felt the need to send their monthly stipend checks home to their families in order to support them.
Missouri football players who live off campus receive approximately $850 per month for 10 months out of the year, Moe said. The money is meant to equal the total cost of living and go toward books, rent and food.
But what if college athletes received even more beyond that stipend and a scholarship? That now seems to be a possibility after the National Labor Relations Board ruled Wednesday that Northwestern football players qualify as employees of the university and not student-athletes, which gives them the right to unionize.
"For me in particular, it wouldn’t have been a huge deal," said Moe, who graduated in December 2012 with a degree in business administration. "It would have been nice, and I could have certainly had some money. It would have set me up better for life. To me, it wasn’t live or die. For a lot of my friends, though, it kind of is."
Wednesday's ruling was the first step toward college football players receiving extra compensation through unions. The current ruling only applies to Northwestern, but could expand to other private universities.
That said, there is still a monstrous staircase to climb before Northwestern football players can begin unionizing, let alone athletes attending public universities such as Missouri. Sports lawyer Exavier Pope anticipates a legal clash with public and private law on either end.
"We're potentially (going) to see a Supreme Court fight," said Pope, the principal owner of The Pope Law Firm. "The reason I say the Supreme Court fight is probably imminent is there was really no legal precedent to any of this. There wasn't any case law in the books. There weren't any NLRB decisions related specifically to college athletes.
"So, the legal precedent just flat-out wasn't there. You also may see some push on legislation in the near future as well, particularly in the states where there is a fight against public unions. Don't underestimate that."
The Southeastern Conference is home to a few schools in those states, such as Texas and Alabama. That brings proposed conference realignment back to the surface or, according to Pope, the potential for each power conference to create its own private collective bargaining agreement.
In the midst of this, union and labor laws are a hot-button issue in Missouri. As recently as Wednesday, an estimated 1,000 union workers rallied against "right-to-work" laws, which is an anti-union legislation. Again, there is no legal precedent to foreshadow how those endeavors could play out in terms of paying college athletes.
"As it pertains to current Missouri players, that is yet to be decided," Pope said.
Pope believes college athletes should be viewed as employees to their universities because of the "ABCs of agency:" access, benefits and control.
Moe believes that college athletes should be compensated more than they currently are. However, he doesn't agree that unionizing is the best means to that end, and he sees the increased government involvement as one of the red flags attached to unionization.
"I don’t disagree with unions themselves," Moe said. "I just don't think this particular union is the best way. I don't disagree with the end result of students being compensated more. I disagree with the avenue.
"So, if it turns into a free market, then you avoid salaries. You avoid Title IX. You avoid possible lockouts, strikes. You avoid all of that kind of stuff. And you let guys get what they can get."
The idea of college athletes as amateurs despite the billions of dollars that pour into and through athletics departments each year seems farcical to Pope.
"Amateurism is dead," Pope said. "There's no such thing as being an amateur athlete anymore. The NCAA and its member institutions have become a true minor league."
Sandalwood High School wide receiver and 2014 Missouri commit DeSean Blair says he would be more likely to stay all four or five years in college if getting paid was an option. That money would give him the opportunity to help his family in Jacksonville, Fla.
"We don’t make the most money at all," Blair said. "So, I would be able to help my mom come up and see me and my little brother and sister. Maybe I could send money down to them if they needed something.”
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