Wis. gubernatorial candidates weigh in on NCAA unionization

MADISON (WITI) -- As the Wisconsin Badgers men's basketball team prepares for the Final Four in Texas, college sports are in the headlines for another reason -- unionization.

The discussion over whether college athletes should be paid and able to unionize has been a recent hot topic from locker rooms to classrooms to court rooms. Now, the candidates for Wisconsin governor are weighing in.

"I just think it's one of those things that's kind of ridiculous. I think it makes sense that athletes are offered scholarships," said Governor Scott Walker.

"It's a difficult situation, but I wouldn't call it ridiculous," said Democratic candidate Mary Burke.

Gov. Walker rose to national prominence with his fight against organized labor. He says he stands firmly against unions on the college playing field.

"But I think for most people it's reasonable that if they want to play sports, whatever sport it is -- basketball, football, lacrosse, hockey, you name it -- part of their incentive in doing that is that their compensation is they're given an education, either entirely for free on a scholarship, or at least partially on a partial scholarship," said Walker.

The issue transcends the playing field.

Last week, the National Labor Relations Board gave Northwestern University football players the go-ahead to form a union -- potentially giving the athletes the authority to bargain over things like long-term health insurance, an educational trust fund, and even compensation.

"Certainly the case out of Northwestern is one that has gotten some focus on this, and we do have to make sure that college athletes are considered in light of sort of all that is being generated around that," said Burke.

Burke says the current system sees some big time athletics programs making millions using students.

"There are a lot of people making a lot of money off of college athletics right now, and we have to make sure that the students generating that are being, not only getting a good education, but are able to support themselves," said Burke.

Walker says the Wisconsin basketball team, which has graduated all of its seniors for the last two seasons, is an example of how big time athletes can be real students -- not simply employees who play sports.

"I think that's an incredible benefit, particularly at schools like we have here int he state of Wisconsin, where they don't just provide a scholarship, they work aggressively to encourage student athletes to get their degree," said Walker.

Northwestern University says it will appeal the decision, and the issue will likely be tied up in the courts for years to come.

The American public appears split on the subject as a recent national poll shows that 47% support the idea of unions for college athletes, while 47% oppose it.