Northwestern players take step toward unionization

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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.

New contract for Florida-Georgia game finally set for approval by city of Jacksonville

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Crossing a few t’s and dotting a few i’s appear to be all that is left to be done on a new contract for one of the most well-known neutral site rivalry games in the country.

According to the Jacksonville Business Journal, a contract has been sent to the city for approval of a new five-year deal in the annual contest between Florida and Georgia. Terms of the agreement were actually agreed to by both schools last year but it is just now making its way to the city for the final signature.

Each side is set to receive as much as $2.75 million in incentives over the next five years for the series, which takes place annually in Jacksonville at the Jaguars’ home field, Everbank Field. The Gators and Bulldogs are expected to get a $125,000 payment once the contract makes its way through the city bureaucracy and a further $250,000 in guaranteed money each year through 2021.

Also interesting to note that both schools are also getting an increase in their travel budget in the form of a nice $10,000 bump over the amount from previous agreements. The city also covers Georgia’s air travel costs up to $350,000 each year per the Business Journal.

The series, colloquially known as the World’s Largest Cocktail Party, takes place annually in Jacksonville between the two SEC East rivals and often decides the division. Florida has won three straight in the rivalry with the next edition set to take place on Saturday, October 28, 2017.

Next up on Jim Harbaugh’s world tour? An overseas football game and South Africa

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Jim Harbaugh and Michigan recently wrapped up most of their activities in Italy over the weekend and it appears the grand world tour will continue in the coming years for the Wolverines.

Next up on the travel docket? Apparently it’s South Africa.

“We’ll get together as a team and decide, but I’d really like to go to Cape Town or Johannesburg,” Harbaugh told MLive.com in Rome. “One of those two.”

A trip to Brazil is reportedly under consideration as well. Given how the current trip has already ruffled some feathers across college athletics though, one wonders if the NCAA will move to prevent such trips before Michigan has a chance to go abroad once again in 2018 though.

Either way, one interesting tidbit Harbaugh mentioned was how neat it would be to play an actual college football game overseas at some point in the future, especially one in Italy. We’ve already seen Cal, Hawaii, Stanford and Rice schedule games in Australia so it’s not exactly out of the realm of possibilities that exporting Harbaugh’s game day tactics across the pond happens in the coming seasons.

Safe to say that Michigan fans better make sure their passports are up to date as a result of this week’s festivities over in Italy because the Wolverines show no signs of slowing down with the globetrotting.

After 2017 NFL Draft, Florida State assistant takes Orange Bowl shot at Michigan

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One of the big winners on the college football front when it came to the 2017 NFL Draft was Michigan. Jim Harbaugh‘s team had a draft-high 11 players taken by NFL teams and several more Wolverines signed as undrafted free agents.

While that’s an large number, it seems not everybody was all that impressed and no we’re not even counting Ohio State fans.

Florida State assistant and former Minnesota coach Tim Brewster is never afraid to mix things up on social media and unleashed this dig at Michigan after the draft on Saturday.

The coach is of course making a not so subtle reference to the Seminoles victory over the Wolverines in the Orange Bowl last season. It’s not a bad shot by any means but a little funny considering how many draft picks FSU regularly produces each year and how much that is a part of their recruiting pitch.

Harbaugh is still in Italy at the moment so perhaps he wasn’t aware of what Brewster sent on Saturday night. As a result, perhaps we should brace for a response from Ann Arbor in the coming days because we all know Big Blue’s coach loves to have the last word.

Former Baylor athletic director denies mishandling sexual assault claim, says he told Art Briles

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Baylor’s sprawling sexual assault scandal is increasingly starting to make its way through the court system and one major trial is already forcing several former school officials to defend themselves in their handling of the matter.

Ex-Bears athletic director Ian McCaw, who now holds the same position at FCS program Liberty, made a court filing in one such case on Friday according to the Associated Press. Not surprisingly, McCaw claimed that he properly handled the case of former player Tevin Elliott, who was convicted in 2014 of raping a woman and is currently behind bars.

McCaw told the court that upon learning of the allegations in one specific case at the time, he told then-head coach Art Briles about the matter and Elliott was subsequently suspended from the football team.

While Elliott was convicted on criminal grounds, former student Jasmin Hernandez has sued Baylor by accusing the university of violating Title IX as a result of keeping Elliott around despite multiple rape claims against him. It is one of several cases set to take place over the coming years in a scandal that led to the departures of McCaw, Briles and school president Ken Starr.