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Thursday, August 28, 2014 | Last updated: 6:10am

Northwestern student athletes unionize



Just over two months ago, a petition was filed in Chicago by the National College Players Association on behalf of members of the Northwestern University football team. The petition highlighted the desire for Northwestern players to be recognized as employees, and not student athletes, by unionizing.

By being recognized as NCAA employees, the players would have the option of being represented for collective bargaining. Essentially, it would allow players to be paid for their contributions on the field.

Former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter headlined the unionization movement and has been the most vocal player on the matter. Colter started the movement by reaching out to NCPA president Ramogi Huma almost a year ago.

“Right now the NCAA is like a dictatorship,” Colter said in an ESPN article. “No one represents us in negotiations. The only way things are going to change is if players have a union.”

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By Rebecca Marie Sasnett / The Daily Wildcat
Rebecca Marie Sasnett/ The Daily Wildcat Redshirt freshman quarterback/receiver Khari McGee re-hydrates with water during practice at Kindall Field on Wednesday. Northwestern won its battle to unionize on Wednesday.

Now, after two months of reviewing the petition, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that the Northwestern football players indeed qualify as employees of Northwestern and can form a union. According to the ruling, NLRB regional director Peter Sung Ohr stated two reasons why they were given union rights: players’ scholarships are based on their athletic performance, and they commit a large amount of time to football.

The College Athletes Players Association may represent the players who choose to take the option of being represented. The association was created by a group led by Colter and Huma, and, according to an ESPN article, will focus on “better concussion and medical protections, and for scholarships to cover the full cost of attendance.”

Northwestern University and the NCAA have each issued statements in disagreement with the ruling and both expressed concern over student-athletes being labeled as employees.

“We want student athletes — 99 percent of whom will never make it to the professional leagues — focused on what matters most — finding success in the classroom, on the field and in life,” said Donald Remy, chief legal officer for the NCAA, in the NCAA’s release.

With the unionization decision now final, the big question is: What happens next? Will players from other college football programs follow suit and file for unionization? Or could we see Northwestern as the sole union of college football players?

After hearing the desire for collegiate student athletes to be paid, NCAA President Mark Emmert proposed a $2,000 stipend to help student-athletes pay for college back in 2011 but still has not instituted the stipend.

Here at Arizona, football players were not allowed to comment on the subject due to the timing of the announcement.

However, it’s fair game to speculate about the kind of impact this could have on the football program and the university as a whole, especially considering there is precedent for Arizona football players to side against the NCAA.

Less than a year ago, then-Arizona seniors Jake Fischer and Jake Smith added their names to the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA. Fischer and Smith became two of the six current players to add their names to the lawsuit.

Looking forward, expect Northwestern will likely stay in the news, as the notion of unionizing collegiate student-athletes should spark considerable debate over whether they should be paid.

—Follow Roberto Payne @HouseOfPayne555


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