Ohio Senator Backs NCAA, Opposes Unionizing College Players

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UPDATED: Friday April 4, 2014 5:57 PM

Supporters of an effort to unionize college athletes have encountered their newest opponent on Capitol Hill:  Republican Senator Rob Portman from Ohio calls it a bad idea. That puts him on the opposite side of the issue of his Democratic colleague Senator Sherrod Brown.

"My sense from what I know is that it's a bad idea," said Portman.  "It's going to hurt the very students it's supposed to help. To have players unionize, among other things, would subject their scholarships, including their tuition, room and board, to being taxable income if they are employees."

In a historic decision last month the National Labor Relations Board sided with former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter and determined football players who are on scholarships are employees of the school and entitled to unionize.

Players are seeking protections dealing with concussions, fully guaranteed scholarships and comprehensive medical coverage.

If unionized, Northwestern football players could choose to collectively bargain.

That issue hits a nerve with Ohio politicians who watched a divisive statewide debate over collective bargaining unfold in the state in 2011.

"I suppose it only applies to private schools and not public schools which I think would be unfair," said Portman.  "I suppose that would help The Ohio State University relative to some of the private schools that might have to stop some of their athletic programs.  I think it's a real concern."

The NCAA disagrees with the decision and Northwestern is appealing.

Last week, Brown told 10TV that he supports the union effort.

"I'm pulling for the quarterback at Northwestern to be able to form a union, if those players think they should," said Brown.  "These players - in practice - are working more than, in most cases, a 40 hour week.  They called them employees more than they were students."

Colter and Ramogi Huma, president of the group that represents the players, were on Capitol Hill earlier this week to lobby for the plan.

Brown met with them, Portman did not.

Portman disagrees with Brown that college athletes are employees of the university.

"I'd like to see college athletics be less professional, not more professional," said Portman.  "By unionizing 18-year-old kids who go to college on a scholarship, I think it's going to end up being harmful to them not helpful."

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