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.

La. governor threatens LSU football in stumping for tax increase

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 28:  Head coach Les Miles of the LSU Tigers look on during the game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Tiger Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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In life, there are some things you just don’t threaten, like a man’s mother or wife or kids.  In the South, you never, ever threaten a man’s — or woman’s or mom’s — college football, even if it’s nothing more than what most are calling your typical political bluster.

Yet that’s exactly where Louisiana’s governor went Thursday, with John Bel Edwards “threatening” the very existence of the sport in the state — including flagship program LSU — if a tax increase for which he’s pushing isn’t implemented.  The state is facing a nearly $1 billion deficit, and funding for higher education, among other things, could be cut, the governor said, if “the largest tax increase in state history” is not put in place by June.

“If you are a student attending one of these universities, it means that you will receive a grade of incomplete, many students will not be able to graduate, and student-athletes across the state at those schools will be ineligible to play next semester,” Edwards said. “That means you can say farewell to college football next fall.”

“These are not scare tactics,” Edwards, wearing a Grim Reaper costume, added.

From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

The governor went so far as to say that LSU football was also in jeopardy, due to a threatened suspension of spring classes that would jeopardize college athletes’ eligibility next year. He said the state would no longer be able to afford one of its most popular programs with middle class residents — the TOPS college scholarship — without tax hikes.

… “I don’t say this to scare you. But I am going to be honest with you.”

The governor didn’t just threaten LSU football if his tax increase wasn’t implemented, with the Times-Picayune writing that, during the state-wide television address, “Edwards told viewers that the state would be forced to take extreme action — such as throwing people with off of kidney dialysis and shutting down hospice services — if new taxes didn’t go into place over the next few months.”

Here’s to guessing that a deal will be reached before June, before people are thrown off dialysis.  Or before people start throwing legislators off buildings and/or bridges for shutting down their beloved Bayou Bengals football.

Texas losing assistant Jay Norvell to Arizona State

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Back in December, Jay Norvell was rumored to be a candidate for Arizona State’s vacancy at offensive coordinator.  Two months later, it appears the Texas play-caller will be joining Todd Graham‘s coaching staff after all, albeit in a “lesser” capacity.

Shortly after Texas confirmed that Charlie Strong had lost one assistant due to “circumstances [that] have put us in a position that we are going to part ways,” reports began to surface that Norvell is leaving Texas to take a job at ASU. Specifically, Norvell is expected to become Graham’s wide receivers coach and hold the title of passing-game coordinator as well.

Norvell spent one season at Texas after being dismissed by Oklahoma following the 2014 season.  Originally hired as the Longhorns’ wide receivers coach, Norvell was promoted to play-caller early on in the 2015 season when Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline were demoted by Strong.

After the 2015 season, Norvell ceded his play-calling duties to Sterlin Gilbert, who was hired by Strong as offensive coordinator in December. Norvell won’t have play-calling duties at Arizona State, either, as Graham hired Chip Lindsey away from Southern Miss to coordinate the Sun Devils’ offense.

Norvell becomes the fifth Longhorn assistant to leave the program since the end of the season, joining Watson (not retained), Wickline (moved on to West Virginia), Tommie Robinson (left for USC) and Chris Vaughn (Ole Miss muck). The last two offseasons, a total of eight assistants have left the program in some form or fashion.

As it stands now, Strong has three vacancies to fill on his current staff.

UPDATED 10:29 a.m. ET: While neither program has confirmed it, Norvell took to his personal Twitter account to apparently say goodbye to his home of the last year.

Report: USC AD Pat Haden undergoes unspecified medical procedure

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 03: 
USC Athletic Director Pat Haden speaks at a press conference introducing Steve Sarkisian as the new USC  head football coach at the John McKay Center at the University of Southern California on December 3, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Citing a source with knowledge of the situation, the Los Angeles Times reported overnight that outgoing USC athletic director Pat Haden underwent what’s only being described as “an unspecified medical procedure” at some point Thursday.

Early Wednesday afternoon, reports surfaced that Haden nearly collapsed outside of Heritage Hall and was treated by paramedics called to the scene. Shortly thereafter, per reports, he was taken to the hospital via ambulance.  A statement from the school confirmed Haden had felt lightheaded before being treated by medical personnel and ultimately transported to his doctor off campus.

The 63-year-old Haden, who has a pacemaker, was taken to one hospital later that day and discharged.  According to the Times, however, Haden was taken to another hospital at some point after the first visit and was held overnight prior to the procedure being performed Thursday.

It’s expected that Haden will remain hospitalized for another day or two, the paper reports.

A similar episode prior to the Notre Dame game last season prompted Haden to give up his duties as a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee. Lingering health issues played a role in his decision earlier this month to step down as USC’s athletic director later this year.

Utah State continues filling holes on Matt Wells’ Aggies staff

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Departures had left Matt Wells with myriad openings on his Utah State coaching staff.  Earlier this week, Wells filled one hole on the offensive side of the ball; a day later, he turned to the defensive side.

The university confirmed Wednesday that Julius Brown has been added by Wells as cornerbacks coach.  Brown had spent the past two seasons as the secondary coach and recruiting coordinator at Mountain West rival Boise State.

Brown, who played his college football with the Broncos, and his alma mater reportedly parted ways earlier this year.  The Idaho Statesman reported at the time that “[i]t was unclear if Brown’s departure would be termed a resignation or a firing.”

Prior to his first tenure at BSU, Brown was a secondary coach and recruiting coordinator at Arkansas State (2013) and cornerbacks coach at Troy (2012).

“We are excited to add Julius to the Aggie football family,” said Wells. “He brings a lot of experience to our staff and team as both a secondary coach and former defensive back, and also has a reputation as an outstanding recruiter. He possesses key knowledge of the Mountain West that will aid us moving forward in our quest to win a conference championship.”

With the hiring of Brown, Wells still has a need for running backs and tight ends coaches as well as special teams coordinator.