Kain Colter

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.

Big 12 presidents take vow of public uniformity

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby arrives to speak to reporters after the first day of the conference's meeting Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in Irving, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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There may be plenty of heated debates and conversations behind closed doors, but when it comes to showing the public their stance, the leaders of the Big 12 have agreed to stand together for the greater good of the Big 12. On Friday, Big 12 presidents and chancellors agreed to defer all comments to commissioner Bob Bowlsby.

The show of uniformity in refraining from comment appears to put Oklahoma president David Boren on notice. Boren had made headlines with his public remarks regarding the stability of the Big 12 by suggesting the conference was psychologically disadvantaged in the power conference landscape, speaking out in favor of expansion and lamenting the missed opportunity to add Louisville to the conference. Boren’s comments have either been echoed by fellow Big 12 leaders or disputed by others. Boren speaking out gave credence to the idea the Big 12 really is not standing on solid ground as a conference, because if Oklahoma is not happy with the state of the Big 12, then there are issues that will continue to be problematic. For the Big 12 to be stable, it likely needs Oklahoma and Texas to be happy. Now, no matter what Boren really thinks, he is essentially muzzled on the big topics for the Big 12.

After two days of meetings, the Big 12 essentially comes out of their meetings silent and without any drastic changes in the works. Expansion was discussed during the recent meetings, but no specific candidates were discussed during the board of directors meeting. Bowlsby did suggest there may not be an ideal number for the conference, which is currently operating with 10 members.

So for now, as has been the case for the last few years, there is no movement on the expansion front for the Big 12, which may be disheartening to fans of BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, UCF and any other number of programs dreaming and wishing for an invite to the power conference.

UAB approves funding for $15 million football facility

UAB coach Bill Clark watches during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
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The rebirth of UAB football continues to be underway. Days after signing its latest recruiting class (which actually ranked ahead of four Conference USA teams) and confirming its coaching staff to continue preparing for the program’s return in 2017, UAB’s Board of Trustees approved the funding for a $15 million football facility to be built on campus.

The 46,000-square foot facility will include updated locker rooms, administrative offices weight rooms and more to allow for the operation of a steady football program. This is the kind of support the program lacked at the time it was temporarily and hastily shutdown at the end of the 2014 season. It is important to keep in mind, however, this is still a work in progress for the university as it prepares to properly support its football program.

“Do the stars need to align a little bit? Yes, but so far they are,” UAB Athletic Director Mark Ingram said, per Al.com. “We feel great about the design efforts… People are making pledges.”

UAB head coach Bill Clark, who has admirably opted to stay in Birmingham to lead the program through this unique time, seems appreciative of the show of support from the university’s higher-ups.

“It’s just confirmation of where we’ve already been headed,” Clark said. “It’s a process that you go through at the university level to get buildings built, and for them to put phase one and phase two together is a big deal because it really just speeds the process up.”

Cold Turkey: Big 12 bumps Texas-TCU form Thanksgiving to Black Friday

A Texas fan dressed up as a Thanksgiving turkey shows disappointment over the performance of the Longhorns during the first half of an NCAA college football game against TCU, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
AP Photo/Ashley Landis
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The Big 12 announced a pair of adjustments to its 2016 conference schedule this morning. The more notable of the two changes is the move of Texas and TCU’s Thanksgiving night game to the next day, Black Friday. The game scheduled to be played in Austin on Thanksgiving night will now be played the following day as part of a request of television partners ESPN and FOX.

This will mark the second straight season TCU has played on Black Friday. Last season the Horned Frogs defeated Baylor in one of the sloppier weather games of the year. Playing on Thanksgiving had been a long-standing tradition for the Longhorns. Texas squared off with rival Texas A&M 69 times before the Aggies departed the conference for the SEC. Without the Aggies to play on Thanksgiving, Texas has kept that tradition going with games against either Texas Tech or TCU. However, the addition of a third game in primetime to the NFL schedule ahs created a bit of a stir when it comes to television partners. Knowing the NFL will grab the large majority of the football viewers on Thanksgiving night, the Big 12 now avoids being in the NFL’s dark, ominous shadow. Time will tell if this is a one-year deal, and hopefully it is. Some of us actually prefer watching college football on Thursday night.*

Texas Tech’s home game against Kansas has actually been moved up a couple of days to Thursday, September 29. The game was originally scheduled for Saturday, October 1. Now it will get a chance to shine on primetime on either ESPN or FOX Sports 1. The Big 12’s television dates have not been announced, so it remains to be seen if this game will be aired on ESPN or FS1.

*Full disclosure: NBC will begin airing Thursday night NFL games this season, so this statement is voided in the event NBC is airing the Thanksgiving night NFL game because the almighty peacock would not look favorably upon me if I stood by that statement!

USC AD Pat Haden to retire

Southern California athletic director Pat Haden looks on during the second half of their NCAA college football game against Arizona, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, in Los Angeles. USC won 38-31. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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USC athletics director Pat Haden is retiring, the school has announced. Haden, who has come under fire for a handful of reasons in recent years, will officially retire from his position as athletics director of USC on June 30, 2016. He will continue to work with USC for the next calendar year to assist with the renovations of the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Haden took on the role of AD at USC in 2010 after serving as a trustee of the university. Haden took on the job as USC looked to recover from fresh NCAA sanctions against the football and men’s basketball program (see: Reggie Bush). Haden made two coaching hires at USC, including the most recent hiring of Clay Helton after he had been an interim coach for the Trojans. The hiring of Steve Sarkisian ended up being a notable failure for Haden. USC also reworked its approach to academic standards under Haden’s leadership, which has proven to pay off with improved GPAs and graduation rates.

Haden was also one of the first members of the College Football Playoff selection committee. Haden stepped down from his position after receiving advice from a doctor to limit his involvement.

USC will now open a worldwide search for the next AD, which should be a search that attracts a number of high-profile candidates. USC president C.L. Max Nikias says he will work with Nick Brill, principal and co-founder of the Brill Neumann executive search firm in finding the new AD. There is no timeline for making a new hire, but there should be plenty of time to have a new permanent AD in place or ready to take over by the time Haden’s term as AD expires over the summer.