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Northwestern players take step toward unionization

Kain Colter AP

A movement seeking a landmark shift in the landscape of college athletics in general and football specifically has taken another, potentially monumental step in that direction.

ESPN’s Outside the Lines is reporting Tuesday that “Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, filed a petition in Chicago on behalf of football players at Northwestern University, submitting the form at the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board.”  It marks the first step in those players — a group officially called the College Athletes Players Association — being recognized by/as a union and as employees of the university.

The CAPA, OTL reports, was created by, among others, Huma and Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter.

Colter was part of a movement last fall with the tagline “All Players United.”  Colter, several of his teammates and players from Georgia and Georgia Tech all scribbled the acronym “APU” somewhere on their (university-issued) football equipment as part of the “protest.”

In addition to the filing of paperwork, union cards signed by what Huma, a former UCLA linebacker, described as “a vast majority” of the Northwestern football players on scholarship were filed with the regional NLRB.  The website wrote that “to have the NLRB consider a petition to be unionized, at least 30 percent of the members of a group serving an employer must sign union cards.”  Only the players on scholarship — the NCAA limit of 85 — were permitted to sign union cards, meaning walk-ons are excluded from the group.

The NCPA — and ultimately the CAPA — has the backing of the powerful United Steelworkers union.

For now, the goals of the NCPA/CAPA are “better concussion and other medical protections, and for scholarships to cover the full cost of attendance” as well as “a trust fund that players could tap into after their NCAA eligibility expires to finish schooling or be rewarded for finishing schooling.”  Huma declined to rule out the union, if it’s certified, pushing for universities to pay salaries to the players, which would initially include only those involved in football and basketball.

For Colter, though, there’s one overwhelming issue on the agenda in the here and now.

“Money is far from priority No. 1 on our list of goals. The health of the players is No. 1,” the quarterback told Yahoo! Sports. “Right now the NCAA does not require or guarantee that any university or institution covers any sports-related medical expenses. Student-athletes should never have to worry about if their sports-related medical bills are taken care of.”

A certification that leads to such guarantees, however, is likely many, many years down the road and will face numerous obstacles as both universities and the NCAA push back.

First, this union push, for the moment, applies only to private institutions such as Northwestern.  Public universities, which make up the vast majority of FBS institutions, are under the jurisdiction of state laws, not federal.  And those laws at the non-federal level vary widely from state to state, which could open yet another Pandora’s Box, as explained by the esteemed John Infante of the Bylaw Blog:

Assuming a crushing victory by the student-athletes and union organizers, there would still be the issue of public universities. In theory, student-athletes at public universities who became employees would be state workers, whose unionization and collective bargaining rights are governed by state law. Years from now the end result could be many different sets of rules applied at different public and private colleges in different states because of the different collective bargaining rights.

In other words, if the players are successful and unionize to the point that public universities are involved –players at those schools would need to take their case to their individual state boards — you could see football programs within the same conference, depending on where the rights are collectively bargained, operating under myriad different sets of rules — and rates of pay.  And you thought recruiting in the SEC was a free-for-all now?

Any ruling in favor of the athletes will most certainly be appealed by the universities.  The most likely result is years of motions and counter motions at the federal court level, with Colter and his group prepared to fight this all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States if necessary.

While Dan Wetzel states very plainly in his Yahoo! piece that “[t]his will be a war of attrition,” Infante offers up a simple solution to a problem that will become more complex — for both sides — as the lawyers’ billable hours do nothing but grow.

All of this begs to be resolved in one fell swoop (at least for the time being) by Congress passing a comprehensive NCAA reform act, which provides the protections the student-athletes are asking for in exchange for avoiding the employee designation and having different NCAA rules on a conference or institutional basis. The question now is whether Congress could get such a bill together and whether the NCAA sees discretion as the better part of valor and federal regulation as the lesser of two evils.

Watch your backs, though, players. There’s snakes in them there D.C. Beltway suits.  Be careful if you go the Congressional route.

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35 Responses to “Northwestern players take step toward unionization”
  1. pappyyppap says: Jan 28, 2014 12:21 PM

    Maybe they should spend more time trying to become a better football team and a better representative of Big Ten football. Explains thier fall off from the previous season.

  2. crabcakesfootball says: Jan 28, 2014 12:40 PM

    I would take a snake in DC over a devil in NCAA. Good for players.

    I think 20 years from now, the NCAA will wish they had offered concessions earlier bc the whole system could be destroyed and started over.

  3. mogogo1 says: Jan 28, 2014 12:55 PM

    Pretty good chance there will be no NCAA in 20 years. And even if the name is still around it’s going to look totally different from what it is today. The tail can only wag the dog for so long.

  4. sparty0n says: Jan 28, 2014 1:04 PM

    Do these knuckleheads understand that if they are considered employees, the “free” education they get today will become a taxable benefit adding to the their taxable income. If they get paid a stipend, plus the tuition, they could be paying taxes on the $50K-$75 income range.

  5. sparty0n says: Jan 28, 2014 1:07 PM

    Let me state, I’m no tax accountant. So, I may be incorrect. But paying taxes on the benefit of a free education only makes sense to me if they get paid.

  6. halbert53 says: Jan 28, 2014 1:15 PM

    Will non-athletes, such as those on academic scholarships or band members, also be considered employees? Public universities must post job vacancies and only those who apply by a deadline may be considered. Then there is the non-discrimination paperwork showing how many applied per position, # of minority applicants, % of minority applicants hired etc. Then there will be a lawsuit about the racial composition of teams isn’t similar to college as a whole. A lot of the same legal arguments used in Title IX could have a bearing. Scholarships are tax exempt. Stipends or salary are not. University employees typically are required to participate in a state retirement system. At the end of the day, the unions and IRS benefit most. But all these players with kids will be sued for child support.

  7. hotlantalaw says: Jan 28, 2014 1:18 PM

    Northwestern is pathetic

  8. mmersinger says: Jan 28, 2014 1:48 PM


    as a former Div-1 band member I can tell you I did have a university employee ID #

  9. louhudson23 says: Jan 28, 2014 1:50 PM

    Grunt,groan,piss and moan all you want,but the status quo is on life support. If the NCAA is smart,they will get on top of things and prevent it all from disappearing. Giving players plenty of time to come back and graduate as well as full medical coverage of sports injuries is only common sense,if nothing else they can use merchandise sales and TV money to cover the costs. Moving to initiate inevitable changes in exchange for continued control and stability should be next on the agenda for them.

  10. polegojim says: Jan 28, 2014 1:51 PM

    So much criticism above… And so little understanding…

    Northwestern is taking the intelligent/cerebral approach to solve what MANY have been discussing for years… some type of player compensation.

    No other team conference has solved it yet… and let’s see how this plays out.

    Instead of talk, these guys had the brass ones to start something.

    As Norm would say: ONLY in the B1G!!! And proud of it.

  11. bigdinla says: Jan 28, 2014 1:56 PM

    I have no problem
    With the players wanting better health support, but creating another union is insane. Unions ceased to be anything but blood sucking parasites decades ago.

  12. derekgorgonstar says: Jan 28, 2014 2:13 PM

    Liberals are killing everything in America.

    You’re next, football.

  13. sportsguy3434 says: Jan 28, 2014 2:30 PM

    Good grief. They have no idea what they are getting into. A union? Yes only the labor union will make money. First, they have the pretense of health care. I worked with a small college and even we had insurance for injuries and this is probably the case in MOST places. Second no employer has to meet ANY demand of the labor union. The athletes can pony up money and get nothing in return and then have to pay to get them out. Small non revenue producing sports will be dropped. This will RUIN college athletics. I am for more benefits for athletes but this is the wrong route.

  14. sillec28 says: Jan 28, 2014 2:34 PM

    Makes sense that an elite school like NW would be the first to push for unionization. What’s next, Harvard athletes looking to be paid the minimum wage? Or Yale players seeking welfare?

  15. halbert53 says: Jan 28, 2014 2:42 PM

    Most fair minded people, I believe, agree student athletes should receive better compensation. And if they want to use the threat of unionization as leverage to negotiate for that, then that doesn’t bother me.

    But if they unionize and are considered employees, then we should educate them by giving them what they want.

    No free tuition other than what all university employees are allowed, typically one class per semester.

    No housing or housing allowance unless that applies to all employees.

    No paid meals .

    They must provide their own uniforms .

    They must provide their own transportation to work, even if their work takes them hundreds or even thousands of miles away on some Saturdays.

    Pay a buyout, just like coaches, if they leave prior to the conclusion of their four year contract.

    Participate in retirement plan.

    Pay for use of recreational training facilities.

    If the above seems ludicrous, I would suggest it is no more ludicrous than actually unionizing.

  16. floridacock says: Jan 28, 2014 2:56 PM

    Only people going to win is the lawyers. There are better ways

  17. dkhhuey says: Jan 28, 2014 3:22 PM

    I have always thought that paying college players a standard wage whenever they were participating in thier program (weight room training, practice, film study, game day, travel, etc.) was a good idea. They put in massive hours towards their sport and classwork which leaves them little or no time to get a job to help support themselves. Even when they do manage to get a position, their wages are heavily regulated by the NCAA – often times under the amount that student could have received had they not been a sports athlete.

    The universities and the NCAA made a ton of money off their efforts and they should be able to cover an hourly wage and medical benefits. I am not undervaluing the amount of the scholarship at all, but the reality is, these kids rarely have the ability to earn extra cash to live on.

  18. mediocrebob says: Jan 28, 2014 4:28 PM

    Damn libs at Northwestern. There’s a reason you’re pathetic on the field every year

  19. halbert53 says: Jan 28, 2014 4:46 PM

    I worked in an athletic department six years and they do put in massive work all year long. No one can realistically do what they do, keep decent grades and have another job.

    All students had a great campus health care system. Student athletes were able to purchase injury insurance for ACLs, etc ., for a nominal amount but probably would be unaffordable for athletes today.

    Of course, if athletes do unionize and become employees, all their injuries would be workers compensation cases.

    Not a fan of actually unionizing but if the threat of unionizing causes the NCAA a few groin injuries and gives better benefits to athletes then great. Some college athletes– including one or more of the Mannings — took out insurance that would have paid big money if they suffered a career threatening or ending injury while playing collegiately. Lots of players probably can’t afford that type of insurance. Something like that, I believe, should be a standard benefit.

  20. longtallsam says: Jan 28, 2014 6:54 PM

    Why do so many people think the athletes are not already getting paid. A full scholarship is worth from $20,000 to $60,000 per year. The vast majority of these athletes certainly wouldn’t qualify for academic scholarships!

    In addition, many can qualify for Pell grants, which can be used however the student-athlete wishes, and can be up to $5500 per year if they are from low income families.

    Not many high school grads can make this kind of money, for a part-time job(they are limited to 20 hours of practice per week), doing something most of them love to do.

  21. cyraider says: Jan 28, 2014 8:23 PM

    So when they under perform can we fire them??

  22. normtide says: Jan 28, 2014 9:31 PM

    Great, college football will be out of business and needing a bailout in five years.

  23. frank35sox says: Jan 29, 2014 12:20 AM

    What an absolute joke. It should be a privilege to be asked to play collegiate athletics. Not only are you able to play a sport you love at a competitive level for four more years, you are handsomely rewarded with a four year degree that many people would give anything to obtain. If these players can’t come to terms with this, they can file their unenrollment papers and fade to obscurity.

  24. ronm1963 says: Jan 29, 2014 12:52 AM

    Under no circumstances should this nonsense be allowed to continue as the distraction it has become in terms of our nation’s colleges and universities being able to accomplish their primary missions, which is to educate students.

    Indeed, as much as I love big time college sports, I would rather see these athletic programs eliminated altogether than see them continue down the current path. You want professional sports teams and players let independent entrepreneurs organize and fund those enterprises. Let educational institutions educate.

  25. hwkeycubronco says: Jan 29, 2014 1:45 AM

    Simple solution is to have the players that make it to the NFL pay back what they took from their college.

  26. 6thsense10 says: Jan 29, 2014 2:44 AM

    Halbert your post is ludicrous because again once athletes can negotiate they will have overwhelmingly more leverage than the average university employee. Their leverage will be on par with college coaches who are able to negotiate all kinds of perks in their contracts and they can do so going into signing day. So if a school really wants that 4 star recruit well than yes you will pay for room and boarding plus living and health expenses. Auburn is offering all that plus I van negotiate my own endorsement deals and they’re starting me off at $150,000 per season. Can’t beat that? Well than I’m signing with Auburn. I’m at Auburn and I’m a hot commodity. Alabama really wants me though and I want to transfer but I have a contract with a high buyout clause…no worries the buyout expense is negotiated in my Alabama contract……

    You really don’t understand how this free market thing works do you? You thinking the rules governing college athletes will be the same as most other college employees is as silly and naive as thinking the rules governing college coaches is the same as any other school faculty.

  27. 6thsense10 says: Jan 29, 2014 2:53 AM

    hwkeycubronco says:
    Jan 29, 2014 1:45 AM
    Simple solution is to have the players that make it to the NFL pay back what they took from their college.

    Really? Because Alabama and Florida are not making millions due to having NFL quality players? So Johnny Manziel Jameis Winston and all these players that help their teams make millions and in the process helped their coaches earn multi million dollar contracts should pay back the schools for what? How about Florida state should pay the players for helping the school play in a multi million dollar BCS bowl game and not some crappy lower tier bowl game that only pays out a few hundred thousand dollars.

  28. bigwalt2990 says: Jan 29, 2014 7:47 AM

    Without players there are no athletics. Without athletics the income stops. Who is creating the product of football? The players. And people are paying for that product. Sounds like an employee to me…

  29. jpat2424 says: Jan 29, 2014 8:02 AM

    What paid education free room and board and free meals isn’t enough. Greedy fucks

  30. v2the4 says: Jan 29, 2014 8:24 AM

    I think on the surface we can understand what the players are saying. they want a better say in their own program. they should have that right. Scholarships should be a four to five year commitment from the school, not a yearly stipend. I can understand them waiting a more vocal say about their health and welfare within the program.

    Kain Coulter, the former Northwestern QB was right about one thing…coaches and administrators are making money hand over foot. 10 years ago, there were only fifteen coaches who made $2M a year…we now have 55 who make that much, including Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who is rumored to be between $3.2 and $3.8M annually.

    If these players band together as a collective group, then you will see the ncaa have to come up some type of action plan…Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, Jimbo Fisher, Steve Sarkisian and other coaches are already on board with paying athletes a piece of the pie…..of course on the flip side, guys like Bob Stoops, Kirk Farentz, Charlie Strong, and Brian Kelly feel a scholarship and the one meal you get on sundays are all you need to survive in college…

  31. normtide says: Jan 29, 2014 8:30 AM

    The problem is, college football player isn’t a career, it’s a 4 or 5 year gig. That limits your power. When you were in HS, there was so many things you wanted to change. But, you didn’t because once you left, it wasn’t your problem anymore. These athletes get so many perks already. Strain your knee, wait a week for a mri. The athlete didn’t wait. Once they get in the real world, they realize how awesome their college days were.

  32. sportfan2 says: Jan 29, 2014 8:56 AM

    I think all the college players that go to the Pros and make millions need to subsidize their ex-college teammates who didn’t make it their after college life. I think Obama would like this idea and the Union one too.

  33. amosalanzostagg says: Jan 29, 2014 9:30 AM


    For supposedly being so smart, Northwestern football players are pawns.

    Universities and Colleges have at their disposal insurance programs that actually pay for injuries and medical situations FOR every student that represents the University. Career ending injuries in particular.

    Th1s is nothing new, the players want money and they want it now.

    But remember, for every football player getting paid,a men’s soccer player or a woman’s lacrosse player has to be paid as well (under Title IX). Entire programs will go under.

    You think the B1g Commissoner was just opining when he stated that the B1G would consider
    Divison III if pay for play came into fruition?

    Kids need to grow up and realize that the unicorn doesn’t exist, there isn’t a a hard rock candy mountain and there isn’t a free lunch. Ca-ca happens.


  34. tngilmer says: Jan 30, 2014 9:19 AM

    Here is a novel idea – Abolish all football scholarships and make them pay their own way or qualify for college and financial aid just like any other student. I bet the quality of the football players as people would increase dramatically. The thugs would never get into college.

  35. geodude11 says: Feb 1, 2014 8:03 PM

    They already get paid room , board, and exposure to scouts. Plus they are developed and trained for the NFL. Piss on the NFL “never had a chancers” wanting to make a money grab.

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