Posted January 28, 2014

Northwestern football players seek to create college sports labor union

NCAAF
Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter wore "APU" wrist bands in quiet protest. (John Gress/Getty Images)

Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter wore “APU” wristbands against Maine in quiet protest. (John Gress/Getty Images)

Northwestern University football players — led by former quarterback Kain Colter — reportedly have signed union cards in their attempt to form a labor union for college athletes.

ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” reports Ramogi Huma, the president of the National College Players Association, filed a petition in Chicago on behalf of an undisclosed number of Northwestern players to the National Labor Relations Board.

The NCPA also filed union cards signed by the players, according to the report.

More from ESPN:

Huma told “Outside The Lines” that the move to unionize players at Northwestern started with quarterback Kain Colter, who reached out to him last spring and asked for help in giving athletes representation in their effort to improve the conditions under which they play NCAA sports. Colter became a leading voice in regular NCPA-organized conference calls among players from around the country.

After the ESPN report was released, Colter spoke with the Chicago Tribune‘s Teddy Greenstein:

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

Regarding the prospects of unionizing, Colter said: “Everything now is in the hands of the lawyers. We’re not expecting a decision to be made right away. It might take a year or two or go all the way to the Supreme Court.”

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Donald Remy, the NCAA’s chief legal officer, responded to the news in a statement:

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.

Colter wore black #APU (All Players United) black wristbands in the Wildcats’ Sept. 21 game against Maine. He was joined by about 10 teammates as well as players from Georgia and Georgia Tech and four other teams as part of an unannounced protest, according to the NCPA.

The NFL Players Association supports the efforts of the NCPA, according to a statement to Pro Football Talk.

 “Resolved, that the NFLPA pledges its support to the National Collegiate Players Association (NCPA) and its pursuit of basic rights and protections for future NFLPA members.”


21 comments
bartle.dale
bartle.dale

This could get tricky, by law, a scholarship is a contract. A person receives compensation (education) in return for their services (sports). The legal (federal) definition of an employee is "a  person who works in the service of another person (the employer) under an express or implied contract of hire, under which the employer has a right to control the details of the work performed." While an "employee" is never legally defined as receiving "cash, or monies" as compensation for services rendered, laws vary from state to state as to whether a person can barter goods in return for services. States that do allow it have to involve the IRS and other government agencies to assign value to the goods, and have state and federal taxes applied. I can see the NCAAs view. I'd imagine the courts will say that the players can form a union. It would have to encompass all athletics, mens and womens, but wouldn't include any further 'compensation' to athletes. They are already compensated. It would only give them a voice to express poor living conditions, poor or unsafe facilities, ect. By forming a union, however, they would make themselves financially responsible for the assigned taxes on 'compensation' and union dues, as by law, an employer cannot pay those for an employee. Best guess here is after some flexing by both sides, a committee will be formed, comprised of former and current student athletes, former and current head coaches and NCAA brass.

BigBubba
BigBubba

This is terrific news.  I hereby support their unionization efforts, but along with that, call for all these players to pay taxes on all of their benefits (free education, travel, lodging including high class road lodging and bowl trips, meals, physician and dental care, rehab, tutoring, and so on).


If the players are smart enough to organize, they should be smart enough to figure out how to pay taxes on all of that stuff.  Please note that I am not calling for their stipends to be removed, though really, unionization indicates professionalism and should indicate that they do not receive scholarships to attend universities not to mention all the other benefits.

citychitown
citychitown

It's about damn time!!! College athletes are NOT guaranteed an education. In fact, the biggest football programs like Ohio State graduate less than 50% of their players. So, if an education is NOT guaranteed, what are they playing for? How are they being compensated? Now let's look at how much money the colleges get? What was Notre Dame's last TV contract for? $15M a year for 10 years. How much does a good football season drive on alumni donations? $682K plus increases in applications, in-state applicants, and SAT scores overall, according to An NBER paper by Michael L. Anderson.


Only 2.4% of college football players make it to the NFL, so they're not playing for "future earnings". They are generating a significant amount of revenue for an institution, and they aren't being compensated for it. It's time for them to unionize so they can have a seat at the table. 

Jerkzilla
Jerkzilla

They are not employees, they have no right to form a union.


Just like a judge determined last fall that unpaid interns are not protected from sexual harassment, because they are not employees, so the harassment has no bearing on their ability to earn a living.

alhmiel1
alhmiel1

Northwestern might actually want to try and win at something before organizing any union in sports.

mreyes8729
mreyes8729

@bartle.dale Do you think the "service" that players like Manziel offer only worth a "scholarship"? The amateur student-athletes interpretation is clearly consistent with today's college football, not when head coaches get paid 6-7 millions a year and TV contract can be up to 90 millions. If they are not real amateur athlete, then they should get their fair share. Arguing that they are "already compensated" is just lame. 

mshapiro1979
mshapiro1979

@citychitown No college student is guaranteed an education.  College athletes and college students are the same.  Both are students that have to pay tuition to attend the university.  Athletes just have someone else footing the bill.  You state that Ohio State only graduates 50% of their players.  Is that Ohio State's fault or the players?  Every player is given ample time to study, go to class and pass the classes.  Along with going to class, the university bends over backwards to provide the athletes with tutoring and other ways to get the players to pass their classes.


You state that only 2.4% of football players make the NFL.  The other 97.6% have far better advantage over the entire student body, as they obtain the same college education with exactly ZERO debt to obtain that education.  If football players do not graduate from the university in which they received a free pass to go, that is on them, not on the university.  

Derek6
Derek6

@citychitown to be fair, the graduation rate does not support your argument that an education isn't guaranteed.  If students voluntarily leave, for whatever reason, that does not remove the fact that the athletes were granted scholarships that they could have used to their completion.  Now if scholarships were revoked for some reason, that may support your claim.  Otherwise you make a very weak argument.

Bearsclone
Bearsclone

@Jerkzilla Another judge determined last year that a lot of unpaid interns were actually employees who were owed back pay and benefits.  The fact that you decide not to pay some one does not by itself make them an "intern." 


With all due respect to you, Honorable Judge Jerkzilla, I think we'll all just wait and see what the court system has to say.

BigBubba
BigBubba

@alhmiel1Their women's field hockey team is often national championship caliber.  Also their women's softball.  Don't know if those teams are organizing.

Derek6
Derek6

@alhmiel1 you mean like having one of the top academic institutions in the country while competing in Division I sports?  

BigBubba
BigBubba

@mshapiro1979@citychitownThe athletes--especially the football and basketball players but really all of them--work very hard between film study, weights, rehab, practice, etc.  It's hard to do that with a full load of classes.  I'll give them that.


But they have paid for tutoring at most if not all schools, and a lot more mentoring academically than anything I ever got.  I'm not talking about people taking their tests or writing their papers--that's not ethical nor legal.  I'm talking people to help them synthesize their coursework and help the athlete-student be successful.  So their graduation rate should be better than the average student population.  And it's not like their books aren't paid for.

citychitown
citychitown

@Derek6 @citychitown It's not guaranteed for two reasons: The foremost is that the "education" many of these athletes receive is woefully short of supporting their ability to succeed in the real world (at least at the same level as their other students). Many football athletes are placed in low-risk classes or given passing grades because they're football players. The second reason is that they can be cut for ANY reason and at any time without regard to on-field performance. This could be because of a new coach, a better younger player, etc. The athlete is cut, scholarship revoked and now he can't afford the college he's been brought into. He has no "protection" of actually receiving an education based on his commitment to play football at that school. All the risk is on the college athlete, and what does the college risk? Nothing... their class costs are covered by "enrolled" students, so there is NO outlay of cost to the school except what they invest in the sport itself. All risk on one side, all gain on the other. Doesn't sound equitable, so I think it's worth employing a mechanism (i.e. a "union") to force a negotiation. Hopefully, that clears it up for you.

Jerkzilla
Jerkzilla

@Bearsclone Of course we wait for the courts.  I'm just hoping the court takes a steaming deuce on them.  

The kids are compensated w/ scholarships, they do not deserve a penny more or any say.  If they want wages and a voice, they don't have to play college athletics, they can go get paid in any league that will take them.  

dxpavelka
dxpavelka

@citychitown@Derek6:  I'm fairly certain that if athletes actually aspired to not be place in "low-risk classes" the opportunity for them to do so would present itself.  Are you certain that "their class costs are covered by 'enrolled' students" or is it possible that money generated from athletic programs helps to cover the costs of educating the "enrolled" students?  An athlete that is cut and can't afford to go to college can do the same  thing that the rest of the student population does-find a way to pay for school, go to a cheaper school or get a job.  Many of these athletes have had things handed to  them for most of their lives.  Educational lesson number 1:  That doesn't happen in the real world.  That lesson won't cost them a dime.

sunalsorises
sunalsorises

@citychitown Those credits they earn while playing sports go with them.  The college does not take them back.  If athletes are unable to do college level work, they do not belong in college.  The fact that some athletes are able to attend a college is a huge benefit let alone the fact that it is free.  


If a student athlete gets cut, they may continue with education with a huge head start.  Unfortunately, it may mean taking out student loans like a majority of students do.


I'd be more sympathetic to the pay the athletes cause if they were not already squandering the payments they receive.


Higher education in this country is a joke in general and this is for every student.  Reforming that doesn't start with paying athletes to slack off in class.


Finally, I would like to acknowledge the thousands of true student athletes who work hard to balance sports and studies, many of whom also pay for their own educations.   

Cool
Cool

@Jerkzilla @Bearsclone Lucky for us, there are many people who have an actual grasp on reality and can see the whole picture.  Many people aren't as dense as you.  Every work environment has the potential of abuse and every workplace must comply with law.  Only stupid, ignorant, people like you would use the excuse of "they took the job knowing this could happen so it is their fault."  

Derek6
Derek6

@Jerkzilla @Bearsclone jerkzilla first compares them to unpaid interns, and then states that they are compensated.  This is why people like you aren't allowed anywhere near the actual decision-making process.