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.

ACC, Pitt headline Bednarik Award preseason watch list

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The Bednarik Award is the first major honor to release its watch list for the upcoming season.  But it certainly won’t be the last.  Far from it, actually.

In a release Monday, the Bednarik Award announced a 90-player strong watch list that represents every FBS conference in the country.  The Bednarik Award has been presented annually since 1996 to the nation’s top player on the defensive side of the ball.

The ACC leads all conferences with 18 watch listers, with the Pac- 12 (13), SEC (11) and Big 12 (10) the only others in double digits.  The Big Ten, the remaining Power Five, placed nine players.

Wit eight, Conference USA led all Group of Five leagues.  Next up was the AAC’s six, followed by the Mountain West Conference and Sun Belt Conference with five each and four for the MAC.

School-wise, reigning national champion LSU, Pitt and USC placed three players apiece.  A handful of other schools put two players each on the watch list:

  • Alabama
  • Appalachian State
  • Cal
  • Duke
  • Florida State
  • Georgia
  • Miami
  • Michigan
  • Notre Dame
  • Oregon
  • San Diego State
  • TCU
  • Texas
  • UAB
  • Virginia
  • Virginia Tech
  • Washington

No finalists from a year ago remain as both the winner (Ohio State’s Chase Young) and the two runners-up (Auburn’s Derrick Brown, Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons) have since moved on to the NFL.  There are, though, three semifinalists for last year’s award that are back this season — Penn State’s Micah Parson, LSU’s Derek Stingley and Florida State’s Marvin Wilson.

For the complete Bednarik Award watch list, click HERE.

Four-star 2021 QB son of Deion Sanders commits to FAU

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FAU football is building up quite the surname legacy within its program. Even as a couple have recently departed.

Last month, Miami transfer tight end Michael Irvin II, the son of former Hurricanes legend Michael Irvin, announced that he was committing to the FAU football program.  A little over a month later, Shedeur Sanders (pictured, left) announced on Twitter that he too has committed to FAU football.

The touted 2021 prospect is one of the football-playing sons of former Florida State All-American Deion Sanders.

Sanders is a four-star 2021 prospect coming out of high school in Cedar Hill, Texas.  On the 247Sports.com composite, the 6-1, 198-pound Sanders is the No. 14 pro-style quarterback in the country.  he also held offers from, among others, Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Oregon and Tennessee.

Sanders’ older brother, Shiloh, will be a redshirt freshman defensive back at South Carolina this season.

While the Sanders and Irvin surnames are in the Owls fold, a couple of famous ones have recently left.  The wide receiver son of Ray Lewis left FAU football earlier this month.  Originally committed to FAU, the running back son of Frank Gore ultimately signed with Southern Miss earlier this offseason.

FAU is coming off a 2019 football campaign in which the Owls tied a school record with 11 wins.  Included in that was a first-ever win in the Conference USA championship game.  And the program’s fourth straight win in a bowl game, a streak that stretches back to 2007.

Almost immediately after the win in the Boca Raton BowlLane Kiffin left to take over as the head coach at Ole Miss.  Kiffin was replaced shortly thereafter by former Florida State and Oregon head coach Willie Taggart.

Les Miles, Kansas ‘heartbroken’ over passing of student manager Jack Roche, who died over the weekend after being hit by a car

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The extended Kansas football family is mourning the loss of one it’s own over the weekend.

According to the Lawrence Journal-World, and citing multiple people close to the Kansas football program, Jack Roche died in his hometown of Chicago late Saturday night after being hit by a car.  Roche had just turned 21 in May.  He was also scheduled to graduate from the university the same month next year.

Roche had spent the past couple of years as a student manager for the Jayhawks.  Les Miles just completed his first season as the Kansas football head coach, and mourned the young man’s passing in a tweet Sunday night.

“The KU football family is heartbroken to hear of the passing of Jack Roche,” the coach wrote. “Jack was a tremendous, hard-working young man who embodied what our program is all about. We will remember Jack and he will forever be a part of our family. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Roches.”

Roche was beloved by players past and present as well.

“He always had a smile on his face and was genuinely one of the best people in the entire program,” ex-Jayhawk quarterback Carter Stanley said according to the Journal-World. “We’d talk every day, but I’d go in earlier than usual on Mondays and we’d share the results of our fantasy football teams from the day before, which usually gave me a chance to give him a hard time for being a Bears fan.”

Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to all of those impacted by Roche’s way-too-soon passing.

SEC reiterates no decision on football until late July

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As expected, the SEC is going to wait as long as possible until making its next decision when it comes to the fate of football.

Last week, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey warned that “we are running out of time” when it comes to the 2020 college football season.  That said, Sankey reiterated Monday that his conference will still wait to make any type of decision until the end of this month.

Below is Sankey’s statement on the current state of affairs, which came after an expected face-to-face meeting of the conference’s 14 athletic directors.  The biggest takeaway? Sankey allowed that the current trend of COVID-19 positives across the country must begin trending downward in order for there to be a college football season in 2020.

We had a productive meeting on Monday and engaged in discussions on a number of important issues that will contribute to critical decisions to be made in the weeks ahead. The ability to personally interact over the course of an entire day contributed to the productivity of the meeting.

It is clear that current circumstances related to COVID-19 must improve and we will continue to closely monitor developments around the virus on a daily basis. In the coming weeks we will continue to meet regularly with campus leaders via videoconferences and gather relevant information while guided by medical advisors. We believe that late July will provide the best clarity for making the important decisions ahead of us.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already announced they are going to a conference-only schedule for football.  The ACC is in line with the SEC in making such a determination at the end of July.  It’s expected the Big 12 will announce its next move around the same time as well.