University of Iowa president Sally Mason says if college athletes are allowed to unionize, it “very well could” threaten the future of college athletics. Mason currently serves as chair of the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors. She says the nation’s university leaders are “concerned” by the conversation sparked when Northwestern University football players attempted to form a union.
“Certainly the vast majority of us feel very, very strongly that student athlete is what we are all about and I put student first intentionally,” Mason says. “These are first and foremost students. They choose to be students. They choose to be athletes as well. There are great benefits that accrue from that.”
Mason says this topic recently came up in conversation with the father of James Morris, a Hawkeye football player.
“He said his son got exactly what he wanted from his college experience,” Mason says. “He was able to play Division I athletics at a very high level. He got a great college education. He’s about to graduate, in fact he’s going to graduate next weekend. He is the Big Ten Medal of Honor winner this year for the University of Iowa. He’s had a stellar career. I’m hopeful that in the next maybe few hours or few days he’ll get drafted by the NFL and have a shot at that, and he would be the first person to say, ‘We’re not employees. We’re first and foremost students. We’re athletes as well. We made that choice.'”
According to Mason, that sentiment is shared “all across the spectrum” of parents, students and athletes, but she says university leaders like her want to respond to some of the legitimate issues Northwestern University athletes raised.
“I think this is where the NCAA either has to step up and help or we have to find a way to do this ourselves,” Mason says, “and that is to make it so that the kinds of things that the athletes at Northwestern were asking for, whether it’s better health care of them, whether it’s the full cost of education, the kinds of benefits — these are the kinds of things we’ve been wanting to do and certaily programs like Iowa and all of those in the Big 10, we’re resourced well enough that we can do these things and we should be allowed to do these things.”
Mason made her comments during taping of the “Iowa Press” program which airs tonight at 7:30 on Iowa Public Television. On Sunday, Mason will be in North Bend, Indiana, to receive an honorary degree of law from Notre Dame.
“I’m thrilled, obviously, and very humbled by this experience,” Mason said on IPTV. “I never in my life expected this to happen, so it’s really an honor.”
Mason served as provost at Purdue, one of Notre Dame’s university neighbors in Indiana, for six years, just before she was named the University of Iowa’s president in 2007. Mason is one of five people Notre Dame plans to honor Sunday. The archbishop of Boston, a world-famous dancer, a Harvard-educated surgeon and a Notre Dame grad who was a top executive with Amoco and British Petroleum are the four others slated to receive honorary degrees along with Mason.