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.

Missouri set to rent empty dorm rooms to fans for football weekends

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Homecoming could be taken to another level at Missouri this fall with a chance for Tigers fans to actually spend a weekend in their old dorm rooms.

As part of an effort to make up several budget shortfalls and adjust to dwindling freshman enrollment, Mizzou revealed plans this week to rent out unused dorm rooms in residence halls for football games and other campus events. The St. Louis Post Dispatch adds that the concept has been in the works for some time and a mind-boggling seven residence halls have been taken offline in the wake of a huge drop in the number of students following a number of serious issues at the Columbia campus.

Guests who want to bypass a local hotel for games and sign up for the opportunity will be able to grab a furnished, two-bedroom suite with four single beds for $120/night. Internet access, bed sheets and towels are included and you can even head on down to the campus cafeteria to boot in order to buy food. For those planning on tailgating before a big game, the Post Dispatch notes that the school is still discussing whether alcohol will be allowed in the rooms.

While the ability to stay in an actual dorm room is pretty unique when it comes to the SEC football experience at the school, the reason for even taking this step should raise eyebrows even further given the situation at Mizzou. Student protests rocked the campus two years ago and Columbia really hasn’t been the same since with declining enrollment dropping off sharply ever since to further add to the crisis at the university.

Though financial necessities may be forcing the Tigers to go this route with unused dorms, it will be interesting to see if other schools in less dire situations at least take a look at emulating the concept on a smaller scale for game days in the future. Several universities around the country already have on-campus hotels so taking the next step to Airbnb some dorms seems like it will be in the cards for a football Saturday soon enough.

Buffalo reportedly receives state approval for new $18 million football field house

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If it seems like every college football program has an indoor facility nowadays, that’s because it’s a statement that is pretty close to being true. Now it’s time to cross one of the few remaining FBS holdouts off the list of those without one as Buffalo has finally gotten a thumbs up to build one just across the street from the school’s football stadium.

Buffalo Business First reports that the state has given the green light to a nearly $18 million field house project and that the university could issue construction bids for the building as soon as next week.

The project will check off a lot of boxes for the athletic department and the football team in particular. It reportedly will result in a 90,000-square-foot facility that includes both a full turf field and a small track. The exact timeline still appears to be up in the air a bit but it seems as though the school will receive bids soon and then commence construction sometime in early 2018.

That’s welcome news for head coach Lance Leipold as the Bulls were the lone MAC school without an indoor facility as of 2017. Given the winters (and fall’s and spring’s…) in upstate New York, the addition of a place to practice and train away from the elements should be a boon for the program going forward.

Kansas planning $300 million stadium renovation and new indoor football facility

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No matter how good or bad your football team is nowadays, chances are high that your school is planning to upgrade football facilities in order to keep up with the burgeoning college athletics arms race.

Case in point lies in Lawrence, where Kansas is set to embark on a whopping $300 million renovation of Memorial Stadium that will also include an indoor practice facility. AD Sheahon Zenger disclosed the plans on Wednesday night while speaking at a booster function, according to the Kansas City Star.

“It will be something that will be just that next step in transcending our program to the next level,” Jayhawks head coach David Beaty reportedly said. “We really do have to keep up with the facility war that goes on out there.”

Memorial Stadium is one of the older stadiums in the Big 12, dating back to the 1921 opening of the site. While there have been a handful of updates in the past few years, there hasn’t really been much of a major renovation since 1998-99. Plans for the updated design and any additional features should be unveiled in September based on the timeline that Zenger disclosed.

No word on if Kansas is planning on adding any waterfalls to project just yet however.

Arkansas State stadium expansion includes pair of waterfalls

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The college athletics’ arms race of the past few decades has produced a number of unique designs when it comes to various stadiums and other football-centric facilities. Just about everybody is trying to hang their hat on something new and different to set themselves apart from the crowd and that ethos is seemingly creeping into just about every design element in any new building across the country.

Arkansas State appears to be the latest program to go in this direction and, based on new renderings of a north end zone project for Centennial Bank Stadium that were released on Thursday, the school is perfectly content to ignore TLC’s advice and start chasing actual waterfalls.

“This project will allow us to attract the top students in the country and provide first-class services to develop our students on and off the playing surfaces,” athletic director Terry Mohajir said in a statement on the school’s website for the project. “Additionally, we’ve created a unique feature to pay homage to the great state of Arkansas, the Natural State.”

This is far from the only water feature to be incorporated into a stadium in recent years (Jacksonville’s EverBank Field — home to the annual Florida-Georgia game — has a pool after all) but is a little bit outside the box for a smaller FBS school’s stadium. The two waterfalls are set to be placed on either side of the north end zone grandstand and include a new outdoor premium seating area as well. Also included in the project are a new weight room, a training/rehabilitation area, new football locker room, position meeting rooms, a players’ lounge, academic rooms and team-theater meeting area.

No cost breakdown or timeline were given but safe to say the former will involve millions of dollars and the latter will result in several years passing before the water is flowing in Jonesboro.