Calling the NCAA "a dictatorship," former Northwestern football player Kain Colter joined national labor leaders in Chicago to announce that the newly formed College Athletes Players Association had petitioned the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board.
Some experts envision a long, fruitless battle to successfully unionize, but CAPA founder and president Ramogi Huma said, “we have full confidence that the board will rule in our favor.”
The group has a sizable list of demands that includes financial coverage for sports-related medical expenses, placing independent concussion experts on the sidelines during games, establishing an educational trust fund to help former players graduate and “due process” before a coach could strip a player of his scholarship for a rules violation.
The organization also wants players to receive “cost of attendance” stipends — most major-conference schools agree — and allow them to be compensated for commercial sponsorships “consistent with evolving NCAA regulations.”
There is no push for “pay-for-play” salaries, though.
“A lot of people will think this is all about money; it’s not,” Colter told the Tribune on Tuesday morning. “We’re asking for a seat at the table to get our voice heard.”
A former UCLA linebacker who has become an advocate for players’ rights, Huma said that too high a percentage of the billions generated by the NCAA — a reported $5.15 billion by the five power conferences — goes to coaches’ salaries and stadium luxury suites. He said that the NCAA does not protect the interest of players.
“If you get hurt in school colors,” Huma said, “just because someone labels you an amateur, that doesn’t mean you should not be taken care of for that injury. This is a multibillion industry that is produced off the player’s talent.”
At the outset, only Division I FBS football players and men’s basketball players will be eligible to join CAPA because they can make the case best that they are employees. At present, only Northwestern football players are involved.
Organizers chose Northwestern because of Colter’s eagerness to step forward. And as a private institution, the school falls under the jurisdiction of the NLRB. Public universities are governed by state law.
The NFL Players Association voiced its support Tuesday, while the NBA and MLB players unions declined comment.
NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said he is confident the NLRB will rule in the NCAA’s favor.
“This union-backed attempt to turn student athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education,” Remy said. “Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary.”
Brian Rauch, an attorney who specializes in labor law and has represented universities, said that the current law dictates that students pursuing a degree cannot organize. A case involving teaching assistants at New York University was settled before an NLRB ruling.
“I’ve never seen a case regarding athletes,” Rauch said. “It would take a long time and be a long haul considering they are seeking to overturn precedent.”
Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said in a statement that he supports some goals of the movement but not the method being attempted.
“Northwestern teaches our students to be leaders and independent thinkers who will make a positive impact,” he said. “(This) action demonstrates that they are doing so.
“We agree that the health and academic issues being raised by our student-athletes and others are important ones that deserve further consideration. (But) Northwestern believes that our student-athletes are not employees and collective bargaining is therefore not the appropriate method to address these concerns.”
Colter initially addressed his concerns in a Sept. 21 game against Maine. He raised awareness for the All Players United movement by joining with athletes from Georgia and Georgia Tech who scrawled “A.P.U.” on sweatbands and towels.
The protests seemed mild, but they were not repeated during the season.