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 reportedly prefers expansion to be settled before start of season

WVU vs Marshall
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Unlike most goings-on in the conference, it doesn’t appear the Big 12 is going to drag its feet on the biggest issue it’s currently facing.

The Big 12 announced earlier this month that the conference will expand, whether by two teams or four.  Regardless of the final number, CBSSports.com‘s Dennis Dodd, citing three individuals with knowledge of the ongoing process, reported Thursday, the conference “would prefer to wrap up the expansion process before the start of the 2016 football season.” The reasoning for an expedited timeline is simple: the powers-that-be in the league do not want expansion talk and speculation to overshadow actual football.

Such a timeline would also be beneficial for any incoming teams.

If the expansion teams are indeed announced before the season, that conceivably would give the new schools a chance to begin playing in the conference in 2017. For now, the league is in the process of contemplating how it will decide participants for its championship game that has been reinstated for 2017.

“I have not made any comment on time frame and do not plan any such statement,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told Dodd in a statement.

It’s believed that any new members for the Big 12 will come from a group that includes teams from both the AAC (Cincinnati, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulane, UCF, USF) and Mountain West (Boise State, Colorado State, San Diego State) as well as football-independent BYU.  More specifically, BYU, Houston, Memphis, UCF and UConn are considered by some/most observers as the front-runners, with some throwing Cincinnati in as well.

The AAC kicks off its Media Days Monday, and expansion will no doubt dominate the conversation during the two-day event.

FSU, Boise in talks to move 2019 opener to Jacksonville

10 Nov 2001:  The Florida State Seminoles mascot walks down the field during the game against the North Carolina Wolfpack at the Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida. The Wolfpack defeated the Seminoles 34-28.Mandatory Credit:  Andy Lyons /Allsport
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One thing is certain, Florida State loves themselves some neutral-site openers.

Florida State and Boise State are scheduled to open the 2019 season at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee.  However, FirstCoastNews.com first reported, the two football programs are actively engaged in ongoing negotiations about moving that game to Jacksonville’s EverBank Field.

“A deal has not been reached but ‘positive discussions continue,” an unnamed official told the website.

FSU has a return game to Boise scheduled for 2020; as of now, the Tallahassee Democrat reports in confirming the initial news, FSU has no intentions of canceling that game.

If the game is moved to Jacksonville, it would give FSU neutral-site openers in four of the next five seasons.  They are already scheduled to open the 2016 season against Ole Miss in Orlando and the 2017 season against Alabama in Atlanta.  Additionally, reports surfaced earlier this week that FSU is closing in on an agreement to open the 2020 season in Atlanta against West Virginia.

FSU would reportedly make in excess of $8 million combined for the 2016 and 2017 openers.  The financial particulars for the 2019 and 2020 openers are unknown at this point.

One potential benefit of this spate of neutral-field games, the Democrat writes, is that it would “give FSU the opportunity to continue renovation efforts of Doak Campbell Stadium while boosting its strength of schedule against non-conference opponents.”

Steve Spurrier named ambassador, consultant for Florida athletics

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Not surprisingly, the Ol’ Ball Coach is coming home again.

Last month, Florida announced that it would be naming the field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in honor of Steve Spurrier, something the coach considered “to be the biggest, most special honor I have ever received.”  Friday morning, UF announced that Spurrier’s name would continue on in another official capacity, revealing that Spurrier has been named “Ambassador and Consultant for the Florida Gators Athletic Department.”

There’s no official word on his specific duties, although I’m certain being shirtless and holding a Coors and cutting a rug are among them.

Spurrier played at Florida from 1963-66, becoming the first player in Gators history to win the Heisman Trophy. He returned to Gainesville as the Head Ball Coach in 1990, going 122-27-1 in his 12 seasons with eight SEC East titles, six SEC championships, 10 top-10 finishes and a national championship in 1996.

He abruptly retired as the head coach at South Carolina in early October of 2015, finishing his coaching career with a record of 228-89-2 (.718).  In February of this year, it was announced that Spurrier would serve as a special assistant for South Carolina president Harris Pastides and athletic director Ray Tanner.

Below are the pertinent quotes surrounding his latest appointment:

UF ATHLETIC DIRECTOR JEREMY FOLEY
“It’s a great day for the Gator Nation to be able to welcome Coach Spurrier back home. He has served as a tremendous ambassador to the University and the athletic department for 50-plus years and it’s only fitting that at this point in his career, he is back in Gainesville. Being a Gator has always meant so much to Coach Spurrier, but it means just as much to us have him come home.”

UF HEAD COACH JIM MCELWAIN
“I look forward to visiting with him on a lot of occasions and picking his brain on a number of issues. It’s a credit to Jeremy to get him back home where he belongs. More than anything I look forward to actually talking to him and being around him rather than just saying hello to his statue on my way to work every day.”

STEVE SPURRIER
“My wife, Jerri, and I are extremely thrilled to be returning home to our alma mater, and to Gainesville where we met on campus over 50 years ago. I’m very appreciative to Athletic Director Jeremy Foley, Head Coach Jim McElwain and Phil Pharr of Gator Boosters for their role in making this happen.

“I also want to say thanks to the University of South Carolina for allowing me to be their coach from 2005 to 2015. Also a special thanks to all of the Gamecock players, coaches and fans that allowed our teams to set so many school records. I will now pull for South Carolina to win every game but one, just as I did when I pulled for Florida to win every game but one as the Gamecock coach. I will try my best to promote and assist in any way I can to help the Gators to continue to be one of the very best athletic programs in America. I admire what Coach McElwain and his staff accomplished last year. I’m anxious to watch the Gator football team as they strive to be the best in the SEC and the nation in the years ahead.”

UPDATED 11:58 a.m. ET: Both USC and Spurrier have confirmed that the OBC will give up his position as special assistant at the school.

At least one poll ‘means more… maybe, than anything’ to Bob Stoops

STILLWATER, OK - NOVEMBER 28:  Head coach Bob Stoops of the Oklahoma Sooners is soaked with a water cooler by Nila Kasitati #54 of the Oklahoma Sooners after the Sooners beat the Oklahoma State Cowboys 58-23 at Boone Pickens Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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I don’t care where your allegiances lie, this is a pretty damn cool story.

Earlier this week, ESPN‘s Chris Low took a poll of Big 12 and SEC head coaches, 23 in all, and asked them the following question: If you had a son who was an elite football prospect and could play for any coach in America other than yourself, who would be your first choice?

The usual suspects were mentioned, among them: Alabama’s Nick Saban, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, Miami’s Mark Richt, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer. That venerable list received one vote apiece. Then there was Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald with two votes apiece, and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio and Stanford’s David Shaw with three each.

The top vote-getter? Bob Stoops of Oklahoma with five.

In an interview with Guerin Emig of Tulsa World in part regarding this poll specifically, Stoops relayed just how much it meant to him to be that respected by his counterparts.

It means more to me, maybe, than anything,” he said Thursday.

“That my peers, coaches, feel I treat kids the right way,” he said, “I don’t know, hopefully a good role model and mentor to them and coach, as well. It means a great deal to me.”

“I have such respect for all the coaches out there at all levels,” Stoops said. “So yeah, there’s no doubt that that’s very flattering. I’m honored they feel that way.

It’s one thing for a parent outside your profession to say they’d want you to coach/mentor/instruct/oversee/supervise your child. When it’s members of your own profession? As evidenced by the OU coach’s response, it doesn’t get any better or more humbling than that.