Student athletes, as a rule, are athletes first and students second (or not at all) at division 1 competitive athletic programs. They are encouraged to take courses that are non-taxing so that they can focus on their athletics. It wasn't always this way, but it is today. If an athlete doesn't perform to the expectations of the coach their scholarships can and are ripped away by unfeeling athletic administrations. Given the level of tuition, this means that athletes are forced to transfer solely due to athletic performance, even if, academically, they are doing fine. I have witnessed this first hand and on more than one occasion.
Meanwhile the compensation of athletics department personnel has gone through the roof. In most states, athletic department personnel dominate the top five paid state employee list. $ 5 to $ 6 million per year compensation is becoming common at the more ambitious football and basketball programs. So, somebody is doing well. But, sadly, not the athletes. The athletes are the mules that pull the luxury liners that are modern division-one football and basketball programs.
But, is a union the answer. Not likely. The answer is to let the free market reign in college athletics. Let the players be paid and let the chips fall where they may. Don't saddle college athletes with union bosses and union dues and thereby merely replace one uncaring institution with another.