Northwestern University football players have taken the first steps in trying to form a union. Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter was quick to point out that this action is not about receiving payment from the NCAA. Colter said that he is more concerned about protection for injured players. Northwestern players made this move with the backing of the President of the National College Players Association Ramogi Huma.
“The NCAA does not guarantee that any of our medical expenses will be covered.” Kain told ESPN’s Outside the Lines.
ESPN’s Outside the Lines first reported the story of the petition being filed with the National Labor Relations Board regionals office in Chicago. Colter later said that players miss classes for athletics, because if they do not attend the functions their scholarships can be revoked.
The NLRB requires at least 30 percent of the employees in a group to be interested in forming a union, which means at least 26 of the 85 players had to sign union cards. However, Huma stated that an “overwhelming majority” of Northwestern players signed cards while declining to state an exact number.
“This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education…. There is no employment relationship between the NCAA, its affiliated institutions or student-athletes,” The NCAA’s Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy stated.
Remy believes that the NLRB will find in the favor of the NCAA. Remy stated that there is no right for student-athletes to organize under the National Labor Relations Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Northwestern football’s head coach Pat Fitzgerald supported his players through his Twitter page.
Kain and our student-athletes have followed their beliefs with great passion and courage. I’m incredibly proud of our young men! GO CATS!
— Pat Fitzgerald (@coachfitz51) January 28, 2014
“Northwestern teaches them [students] to be leaders and independent thinkers who will make a positive impact on their community, the nation and the world. Today’s action demonstrates that they are doing so,” Northwestern Athletic Director Jim Phillips stated.
Phillips stated that players should have the opportunity to have a voice in discussions that involve the health, academic support, and other opportunities of student-athletes. However, Phillips also stated that “Northwestern believes that our student-athletes are not employees and collective bargaining is therefore not the appropriate method to address these concerns.”
NCPA’s stated mission is “To provide the means for college athletes to voice their concerns and change NCAA rules.” NCPA’s stated goals and legal action taken by the NCPA thus far has not been directed at having players be paid.
Any impact on student-athletes due to the actions of these players would seem to be years away. Any action taken by the NLRB would be appealed by either party.
Not all college athletes agree with Northwestern’s actions.
“I haven’t read about it yet but if what they are saying is they aren’t getting treated fairly, I find that hard to believe. Do I think we are employees? Not really because it’s our choice to play but it would be nice to have a voice. The NCAA always have negotiations and meetings but who’s really representing the athletes? No one,” an anonymous UWM student-athlete commented.
If the Northwestern’s players attempt is successful, it would open up legal precedent for other college athletics teams to unionize.