Northwestern players take step toward unionization

35 Comments

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.

Albeit with a disclaimer, Jim Mora doesn’t see Josh Rosen leaving UCLA early for NFL

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Most expect Josh Rosen to be one of the first quarterbacks selected when the next NFL draft rolls around.  Rosen’s coach, though, doesn’t see the outspoken junior being a part of the pool of available draftees.

“My firm belief is that he will not leave,” UCLA head coach Jim Mora told Yahoo SportsPete Thamel over the weekend. “I don’t think he’ll leave. …

“I want a disclaimer, I have an option to change my opinion. But as we sit here right now, I can really honestly say I don’t think he’s going to leave.”

Mora’s proclamation comes less than two weeks before the Bruins kick off the 2017 season and around five months before draft-eligible early entrants have to officially file their paperwork with the NFL.

Rosen flashed brilliance as a true freshman in 2015, passing for nearly 3,700 yards and 23 touchdowns.  His sophomore campaign was marred by a nerve issue in his throwing shoulder that sidelined him for the final six games of the season.  Rosen has resoundingly rebounded from that health issue, and will head into the 2017 season 100-percent healthy.

Whether he enters the 2018 season 100-percent Bruin remains, his head coach’s confidence notwithstanding, highly unlikely or even doubtful, especially given his recent comments that football and school don’t mix.

Report: Call to escort service coincided with a Hugh Freeze recruiting trip

Getty Images
5 Comments

Not surprisingly, more details are surfacing in Hugh Freeze‘s unceremonious exit from Oxford.

Freeze resigned as the head football coach at Ole Miss last month in part because of Jan. 19 phone call to an escort service that was initially deemed to be a misdial.  According to the Wall Street Journal, that call came a few hours after a university plane landed in Tampa, Fla., as part of a five-day, 13-stop recruiting trip.  On that plane was Freeze as well as other members of the Rebels football staff.

The discovery of the link between the call and recruiting trip came after a review of phone records and other documents.

After Freeze’s “resignation,” Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork described an unspecified pattern of personal misconduct that led to the coach’s departure.  Bjork somewhat expounded on that pattern to the Journal.

Although school officials had previously declined to characterize the alleged misconduct, Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork said in response to questions from the Journal about Freeze’s travel that the university’s investigation uncovered “calls of a similar nature” over the course of several years, often matching up with travel logs showing the coach’s use of the school plane. The school said it examined his travel logs from peak recruiting times—often November, December and January—when Freeze would travel out of state, using the school plane and other public resources.

“When we say pattern, we are describing other phone numbers that when you Google them pull up similar type websites, services, however you would describe them,” Bjork said. “We took action swiftly.

Speculation of late has there being more, potentially much more, to Freeze’s forced resignation.  Only time will tell how much more will ultimately come out — especially if another former Ole Miss head coach’s lawsuit, kicked out of federal court for lack of jurisdiction, is revived in the state of Mississippi as expected.

Reports: ankle injury likely to keep WR Michael Pittman out of USC’s opener

Getty Images
Leave a comment

In his college football preview Bible, the great Phil Steele had Michael Pittman listed as one of three starting wide receivers for USC.  With the start of a new season a little more than two weeks away, Pittman doesn’t appear set to make that magazine projection come to fruition.

According to multiple reports, Pittman suffered an ankle injury during practice Tuesday and was taken off the field via a cart after having a boot placed on his left foot.  While X-rays taken post-practice showed no break or fracture, the sophomore has been diagnosed with the dreaded high-ankle sprain.

As a result, the Los Angeles Daily News writes that “[i]t seems unlikely he would be able to play against Western Michigan.” Rivals.com tweeted that the injury “[p]robably keeps him out of season opener.”

At least for now, the football program has yet to officially rule Pittman out for the opener.

Pittman was a four-star 2016 recruit, rated as the No. 9 receiver in the country.  As a true freshman last season, he caught six passes for 82 yards.

Next Chance U: Dismissed Oklahoma QB Chris Robison will join Auburn transfer John Franklin III at FAU

Getty Images
4 Comments

In a span of just a few hours, Lane Kiffin Tuesday bolstered his first Florida Atlantic roster with a pair of Power Five transfers.

In the middle of the afternoon Tuesday, Auburn confirmed that John Franklin III had decided to transfer from the Tigers in order to be closer to his Fort Lauderdale, Fla., home. Not long after, the quarterback-turned-wide receiver revealed on his Instagram account that he is “coming home and looking forward to playing my last collegiate season at FAU under Coach Lane Kiffin.”

Franklin would come to the Owls as a graduate transfer, giving him immediate eligibility.

Thank you Tiger Nation #WDE

A post shared by John Franklin III (@jf3_5) on Aug 15, 2017 at 12:45pm PDT

Not even four hours later, Chris Robison took to social media on his private Twitter account to announce that he too will be transferring into Kiffin’s FAU program. The quarterback was dismissed by Oklahoma earlier this month for violating unspecified team rules.

A four-star member of the Sooners’ 2017 recruiting class, Robison was rated as the No. 7 pro-style quarterback in the country; the No. 29 player at any position in the state of Texas; and the No. 173 recruit on 247Sports.com‘s composite board. As an early enrollee, Robison took part in spring practice and played in the spring game, completing 3-of-5 passes for 49 yards.

Roughly 12 hours after that game, he was arrested for being drunk in public. Because of only what were described as “personal reasons,” Robison wasn’t enrolled in summer classes and didn’t take part in football workouts during the same period.