The NCAA is a joke.

I've started too many columns this way, lately, but that truth is so apparent, it's impossible to discuss college athletics without acknowledging it.

It's a corrupted cesspool in which, too often, the dreams of student athletes are used to lure in the almighty dollar, then dragged to the bottom and drowned  when no longer useful.

Which is why I applaud the students at Northwestern University and the ruling yesterday allowing them to unionize.  Because the NCAA's relationship with its, what I can now call workers, typifies the very reason unions rose to power - greedy, uncaring executives with an endless supply of potential employees wielding God-like power over a population of laborers in desperate need of help.

It's less dramatic, of course, but the plight of a gifted yet economically struggling youth desperate for a way out of the gut-wrenching poverty that has plagued his family for generations - whose scholarship, whose way out, can be pulled from him for injuries sustained on the field - is not too far removed from a depression-era factory worker in need of a paycheck, a mistake on the assembly line away from unemployment.

That injury can cost a student his education, that coaches are allowed to block students from transferring to another school, that students are pressured to disregard their academics, and that each happens with frightening flippancy and frequency is disgraceful - a corruption by which we should all be outraged.

And a corruption that players should have the power to fight together.  They deserve to unite as one, and demand the sort of fair treatment the NCAA pretends it makes a priority.

But that's as far as it should go, because scholarships are still compensation enough.