Northwestern Football Players Move to Unionize

By Emily Gray Brosious
Originally published at Gapers Block
Jan. 31, 2014

Members of Northwestern University’s football team are seeking to form the first ever college-athlete labor union, potentially signaling a major shift in college sports.

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 7.32.25 PMNorthwestern senior quarterback and co-captain Kain Colter announced Tuesday that the newly formed College Athletes Players Association had filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board’s Chicago office seeking formal union recognition.

 “A lot of people will think this is all about money; it’s not,” Colter said in a conference call. “We’re asking for a seat at the table to get our voice heard.”

Colter said the current system resembles a “dictatorship” where players are forced to abide by NCAA mandates without any negotiation or input. Collegiate leagues need representation similar to that of professional leagues like the National Basketball Association and National Football League, he said.

Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA linebacker and president of the National College Player’s Association, a collegiate athlete advocacy group, told National Public Radio that organizing in this manner is the only way players can get the leverage needed for comprehensive reform with basic protections.

Graduation rates for football and basketball players “hover around an unacceptable 50 percent,” Huma said. If athletes are injured during games, schools can stick them with the medical expenses and pull their scholarships, he said.

“One of the most disturbing things is the NCAA’s stance on concussions,” Huma said. “The NCAA has been running from this issue and has refused to adopt any of the proactive measures that the NFLPA has been able to negotiate with the NFL.

CAPA is not seeking “pay-for-play” salaries, but the group does want “cost of attendance” stipends as well as compensation for commercial sponsorships.

“These athletes generate billions of dollars per year, which pay coaches and athletic administrators multi-million dollar salaries,” Huma said. “Yet the NCAA scholarship limits leave players with $3,000-5,000 per year in out-of-pocket expenses.”

Among other demands, CAPA is seeking financial coverage for sports-related medical costs, due process before a coach can pull a player’s scholarship and the formation an educational trust fund to aid former players.

CAPA organizers said they chose Northwestern to lead this effort because of Colter’s willingness to step forward. Additionally, Northwestern falls under the NLRB’s jurisdiction because it is a private university, whereas public universities fall under state jurisdiction.

The NCAA released a statement voicing strong opposition to the move:

“This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education. Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize. 

Many student athletes are provided scholarships and many other benefits for their participation. There is no employment relationship between the NCAA, its affiliated institutions or student-athletes.

Student-athletes are not employees within any definition of the National Labor Relations Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act. We are confident the National Labor Relations Board will find in our favor, as there is no right to organize student-athletes.”


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