Kain Colter

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.

Ole Miss announces co-OC Dan Werner won’t return in 2017

Leave a comment

Hugh Freeze‘s 2017 coaching staff at Ole Miss will have a decidedly different look than his 2016 version.

In late November, the football program announced that defensive coordinator Dave Wommack has decided to retire from coaching at the end of year after nearly four decades in the profession.  Nearly two weeks later, the rebels announced that co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner will not return as well.

Werner also served as quarterbacks coach.

“I am grateful to Dan for his contributions to our program,” Freeze said in a statement. “His leadership and experience were invaluable in the development of our quarterbacks. These are always very difficult decisions, but at this time, I believe it is best for our program to have a fresh approach. We wish Dan and his family the very best.”

In 2016, the Rebels were 13th nationally in passing offense and tied for 45th in scoring.  They were in the Top 10 in 2015 in both of those categories.

Matt Luke remains on staff as the other co-offensive coordinator while also holding the title of assistant head coach.  He’s also the Rebels’ line coach.

Werner has been in Oxford for all five year’s of Freeze’s tenure.  He was also the Rebels’ coordinator in 2006 and 2007 under Ed Orgeron, who is now the head coach at LSU.

In addition to the move on Werner, it was also announced that Barney Farrar, the assistant athletic director for high school and junior college relations, would not have his contract renewed.  Farrar had been on administrative leave prior to his dismissal.

Farrar was connected to the draft-day imbroglio involving former Ole Miss All-American offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil.  It was reported in October that an NCAA investigation into the football program is ongoing.

Houston AD goes papal amidst reports of Lane Kiffin hiring

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 19: University of Houston Frontiersman hold the UH flag and the American flag during the University of Houston school song before the Houston Cougars played the Southern Methodist University Mustangs on November 19, 2011 at Robertson Stadium in Houston, Texas. Houston defeated SMU 37-7.  (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)
Getty Images
5 Comments

Even in the midst of a coaching search that will determine your football program’s fortunes for the foreseeable future, you gotta have a little fun.

Late Wednesday, it appeared that Houston was zeroing in on a replacement for Tom Herman, who left to become the head coach at Texas late last month.  Thursday morning, it was reported that Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin had been hired by UH.

In response to the reports of a final decision being made, Cougars athletic director Hunter Yurachek offered a little papal levity, replete with non-white smoke indicating no football pope has been hired.

The Houston Chronicle, citing a source with knowledge of the situation, subsequently reported that “the University of Houston has not made a decision on its next football coach.”

That said, it’s expected that Kiffin is Yurachek’s man, with an announcement coming as early as tonight. University officials will meet later on today to finalize the search and come to a consensus.

In addition to Kiffin, ex-LSU head coach Les Miles and interim Houston coach Todd Orlando and offensive coordinator Major Applewhite have been under consideration.  ESPN.com‘s Brett McMurphy writes that “[w]hoever the next coach is, Houston is trying to require an excessive buyout so he can’t leave after a couple of seasons without paying a substantial penalty.”

As a reference point in that aspect of the situation, Herman’s buyout was $2.5 million.  Herman spent two seasons with the Cougars before leaving for the Longhorns.

Jay Norvell reportedly set to be named head coach at Nevada

Jay Norvell, Jerrod Heard
Associated Press
Leave a comment

Yet another FBS opening is reportedly on the verge of being closed.

According to a report from FootballScoop.com, Jay Norvell “will be the next head coach at Nevada.” The Reno Gazette-Journal writes that “Norvell, the third and final candidate to interview for the Wolf Pack football head-coaching vacancy, was so impressive he didn’t even leave Reno before being offered the job, which he quickly accepted.” Norvell was offered the job late Wednesday night.

The other two interviewed were Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin and Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. The former interviewed Monday, the latter Tuesday.

If/when hired, Norvell would replace Brian Polian, who “mutually parted ways” with the football program last month after four seasons. This would be Norvell’s first head-coaching job at any level.

Norvell just completed his first regular season as an assistant on Todd Graham‘s Arizona State coaching staff.  With the Sun Devils, Norvell served as wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator.

Norvell has spent most of his nearly three decades in coaching at Power Five programs, with stops that included Texas (2015), Oklahoma (2008-14), UCLA (2007), Nebraska (2004-06), Iowa State (1995-97), Wisconsin (1989-94) and Iowa (1986-87).  He also spent six seasons as an assistant in the NFL — 1998-2001 as the wide receivers coach of the Indianapolis Colts, 2002-03 as tight ends coach of the Oakland Raiders.

Jim Harbaugh is looking forward to seeing Chief Osceola and Renegade at the Orange Bowl

TALLAHASSEE, FL - SEPTEMBER 15:  Chief Osceola, mascot of the Florida State Seminoles plants a spear at midfield prior to a game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Doak Campbell Stadium on September 15, 2012 in Tallahassee, Florida.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images
4 Comments

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher got together for a joint press conference in Miami today as the two coaches prepare to face one another in the Orange Bowl on December 30. Harbaugh said he is looking forward to the matchup but seemed to be much more interested in getting a chance to witness one of the pregame traditions of Florida State; Chief Osceola riding on Renegade and planting a spear in the turf.

“I’ve never been to a game at Florida State,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve always wanted to go there and see what that atmosphere was like in person. This will be as close as I’ve ever been to that. I’m excited for that. I know I’m going to get some chills when that Appaloosa comes riding out there.”

Of course, this isn’t exactly a home game for the Seminoles, so sometimes pregame traditions are put on ice for the bowl season. Knowing this, Harbaugh made his case and made sure everyone listening knows just how cool he thinks it is.

“I want to see that. That’s one of the cool things,” Harbaugh said. “We have cool things and other teams have cool things, but that is right up there as one of the coolest things.”

Fortunately for Harbaugh, he will indeed get a chance to witness this pregame routine in person. Florida State Associate Athletics Director Jason Dennard said on Twitter Chief Osceola and Renegade will make the trip to Miami from Tallahassee.