"I'm proud to be a Union man,

I make those meetings when I can

I pay my dues ahead of time,

When the benefits come I'm last in line"

Neil Young, "Union Man"

Now you see why SEC commissioner Mike Slive has been so out front with his push for "full cost of attendance" scholarships for major college athletes. And why EA Sports and the Collegiate Sports Licensing Company last September settled for $40 million with plaintiffs in the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit brought to prevent unauthorized use of player likenesses in video games and other items.

They knew something was coming, some explosion similar to the National Labor Relations Board ruling in Chicago on Wednesday that says Northwestern University football players can unionize as school employees.

Hooray for the players at Northwestern for standing up for fellow students all over the country.

But we have a mess on our hands because the NCAA and its member institutions moved too slow. Even Slive, the reform-minded former lawyer and judge, doesn't agree with the Northwestern ruling.

It's not too late.

The NCAA must fast-track scholarship alteration to head off what looks like a series of losing battles before appeals courts likely to sympathize with union sentiment.

Union advocates can gain support for real change by emphasizing health concerns ahead of a blueprint for broad financial compensation.

Painkillers and concussions

The compromise:

The NCAA and conference commissioners have to do a better job of monitoring the distribution of medications at member schools, reversing its stunningly dangerous head-in-the-sand approach. A 2009 Post and Courier story revealed the NCAA does not monitor the use of painkillers within major college football programs. Asked for a 2014 update, an NCAA spokesperson said, "Regarding painkiller distribution, the NCAA health and safety committee has discussed the issue recently, but there have been no recent policy changes."

No wonder former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, who led the union drive, said medical issues are a big part of the lawsuit.

The NCAA should do a better job of monitoring concussion injuries and treatment. The NCAA is not nearly as open and assertive in this area as the NFL, which itself is way behind the safety concerns of players and medical experts.The NCAA sho

Scholarships in revenue producing sports should be tweaked to allow for basic expenses or adjusted to compensate for the virtual year-round commitment required of today's athletes. NCAA president Mark Emmert has suggested a $2,000 per year boost, and that might be a good start.

Players should get a cut of jersey sales and any other merchandise venture involving their likeness. Dr. Robert Brown, an Economics professor at the University of California at San Marcos, estimated that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowne

The NCAA should make sure student-athletes are truly represented on NCAA committees - with real power or with attorneys - not as token members discouraged from commenting to the media (as with some former health and safety committee student members).

If such legislation comes together before dues-paying college athletes start having union meetings, the NCAA can probably avoid a wildcat strike including South Carolina Gamecocks, Clemson Tigers and Northwestern Wildcats.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff