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.

Tom Brady to serve as Michigan honorary captain during Deflategate suspension

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots reacts against the Seattle Seahawks during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Well, here’s a story born straight out of SEO heaven.

New England Patriots quarterback — and, of course, former Wolverines signal caller — Tom Brady will serve as an honorary captain for Michigan during his Roger Goodell-mandated Deflategate suspension.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh confirmed the news on NFL Network’s Rich Eisen’s podcast. The Big House cameo will take place Sept. 17 as Michigan hosts Colorado.

Brady is free, of course, due to a wide-ranging controversy stemming from allegedly deflated footballs in the Patriots’ 45-7 trouncing of the Indianapolis Colts during the 2014 AFC Championship that led to him being suspended the first quarter of the 2016 season.

Brady played quarterback for the Wolverines from 1995-99 and has kept close ties with his alma mater since, but those have ramped up since Harbaugh’s late 2014 hiring. Most notably, Brady made an appearance at Harbaugh’s 2016 Signing Day extravaganza in February.

Beware Lambeau leapers: Les Miles says you’ll be thumbing your way back to the bayou

GREEN BAY, WI - OCTOBER 19: Davante Adams #17 of the Green Bay Packers does a Lambeau Leap after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the Carolina Panthers at Lambeau Field on October 19, 2013 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
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One of the best traditions in the NFL apparently isn’t welcome at the collegiate level.

LSU and Wisconsin will square off opening weekend at historic Lambeau Field.  At the the Green Bay Packers’ house, every time the home team scores the scorer leaps into the stands to celebrate  with their fans– the famed Lambeau Leap.

In the run-up to one of the few collegiate games ever played in the venerable NFL stadium, it was made perfectly clear that such a leap would be against NCAA rules — “delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed act by which a player (or players) attempts to focus attention upon himself (or themselves)” is part of Rule 9, Section 2, while another part prohibits “going into the stands to interact with spectators” — and the leaper, and thus his team, would be subject to a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

At least on Tiger stated earlier this week that, despite the penalty and knowing “coach Miles won’t be happy with me,” he’s really “looking forward to” doing the Lambeau Leap. “I’ll take that punishment when we get back Monday morning,” defensive back/punt returner Tre’Davious White added.

Getting back, though, could prove problematic, especially if his coach follows through on his “threat.”

“I promise you that if anybody jumps (for) the Lambeau Leap, they’ll end up with their thumb out to see if they can get a ride home,” Les Miles said on the weekly SEC coaches teleconference Wednesday morning. “It’s college football, and we’ll play it that way, and I think our guys understand. We’ll do it right.”

There you have it.  You have been warned, Bayou Bengals. Leap at your own peril — especially when the whole “leaping into what will likely be a whole gaggle of Badger fans” aspect is taken into consideration as well.

After leaving Michigan, Ahmir Mitchell ‘appears headed to Rutgers’

PISCATAWAY, NJ - SEPTEMBER 21: The mascot of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights leads the team onto the field before their game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at High Point Solutions Stadium on September 21, 2013 in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images)
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Ahmir Mitchell may have left Michigan, but he may not end up leaving the Big Ten after all.

Citing a source with knowledge of the situation, Todderick Hunt of nj.com is reporting that Rutgers is the likely destination for Mitchell.  Later on in the story, Hunt writes that Mitchell “appears to be headed to Rutgers.”

Maryland and Temple have also been considered potential landing spots.  It’s expected Mitchell will make a decision next week.

As for his eligibility now and in the future at whichever school he selects?  Hunt explains:

Per Big Ten transfer rules, Mitchell will have to sit out the 2016 season, and will lose an additional year of eligibility, in order to transfer home. But Mitchell is expected to appeal the rule, and potentially even fight for a hardship waver, which although unlikely, could get him on the field as early as this year.

Mitchell’s departure from Ann Arbor was certainly an odd one, cloaked in uncertainty and secrecy.

Jim Harbaugh had confirmed earlier this month that two of the three Michigan football players not present for a team photo — Mitchell, running back Kareem Walker and defensive lineman Shelton Johnson — had been suspended, although he declined to specify which two. A couple of weeks later, Mitchell announced that he had decided to reopen his recruitment even as UM would’ve allowed him to return if he paid his own way this semester.

A four-star 2016 recruit, Mitchell was rated as the No. 5 player at any position in the state of New Jersey and the No. 167 player overall on 247sports.com‘s composite board. He was an early enrollee who participated in spring practice.,

Big 12 informs East Carolina it’s no longer an expansion candidate

GREENVILLE, NC - SEPTEMBER 05:  Head coach Skip Holtz of the East Carolina Pirates walks onto the field with his team before their game against the Appalachian State Mountaineers at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on September 5, 2009 in Greenville, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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We don’t know yet which schools the Big 12 will add in its latest round of expansion.  We do know, though, one who won’t be added.

In a press release, and in a move that will surprise almost no one outside of the university, East Carolina confirmed that the Big 12 has informed them that they are no longer being considered as a candidate for expansion.  It had previously been reported that ECU was one of 20 Group of Five schools that contacted the conference about becoming a member.

The Big 12’s decision on ECU comes a couple of weeks after the current American Athletic Conference member conducted a video conference with commissioner Bob Bowlsby to make its pitch for membership.

“I am proud of the support Pirate Nation provided to our efforts,” ECU president Dr. Cecil Stanton said in a statement. “While I am disappointed by the decision, I remain undaunted in my commitment to ECU athletics and the excellence displayed by our wonderful student-athletes, coaches and staff.”

“While it is obviously not the decision we were hoping for, I am confident ECU put forth its best effort during this process,” a statement from the school’s athletic director, Jeff Compher, began. “Through a determined approach we were able to tell our story to not only the Big 12, but the entire nation. Our student-athletes, coaches and staff will continue to proudly compete for championships in the American Athletic Conference and we will represent our alumni and community with great resolve. We remain Undaunted!”

Nine other AAC members (Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Temple, Tulane, UCF, UConn, USF) are up for consideration by the Big 12.  Schools from Conference USA (Rice), the MAC (Northern Illinois), Mountain West (Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV) and the Sun Belt (Arkansas State), as well as football independent BYU, are considered to be expansion candidates.

It’s believed that some combination of BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, UCF and UConn will ultimately be part of any expansion.  A report from TMGSports.com surfaced overnight that stated invitations have been sent to those six schools, as well as USF and two other unnamed AAC schools.  Those on the receiving end of the invitations are expected to take part in another round of presentations, after which the conference will settle on their new members.

While the conference is looking at expanding by both two and four teams, it appears the former is the more likely number.  A final decision on both the members and number of members is expected at some point in October.