Kain Colter/Northwestern football Union hearings: Northwestern is a bad test case. Northwestern is the best test case

Matt Marton-USA; TODAY Sports

Tuesday's union hearings revealed Northwestern might not be the ideal place for college football players to begin unionizing. Which kind of makes it the best place for them to begin.

Tuesday was a big time in the "Northwestern football tries to form a union" thing: Kain Colter and those trying to start a union called the College Athletes Players Association squared off with Northwestern representatives in a courthouse in front of the National Labor Relations Board, the government agency that can say whether something is a union or not.

Colter and crew were charged with showing that student-athletes are, in effect, employees of Northwestern University: that in order to receive their scholarship, they have to play football, and that in order to play football, they have to do a variety of things normal students don't have to do, and that this legally makes them employees. Northwestern was charged with saying, well, not that: that student-athletes are students, and that football is just a part of the academic process.

In a twist that apparently surprised some people, the proceedings were not exactly pretty, for Northwestern or for Colter, as they each tried to point out why the other was wrong.

What exactly did Colter say? Well, what he did was testify under oath in great detail about his college experience.

The point of Colter's testimony was to prove that college football is a job, and not simply an additional thing some students do to enhance their educational careers.

He did this by showing college football players get paid:

(A reminder: This is still not about getting paid. It's about gaining the ability to bargain for stuff, like safety guidleines, help with medical bills, and academic help. In fact, to argue that he's an employee, it's crucial that Colter show he's already getting paid.)

He did that by showing college football players work a preposterous amount of time:

(During this segment of things, Colter made a rather inapt comparison of football players to "Navy SEALs." This was a clumsty step on a generally very well-rehearsed day because a) being a college football player is not like being a Navy SEAL in any way b) many people already think the college football union push is entitled players not realizing what they have, and now they are entitled players who think they're as good as military members who risk their lives. This is the inevitable backlash to having Navy SEALs participate in your football team's training every year.)

He did this by showing that this intense schedule often interfered with his academic life, even though student-athletes are supposedly students first.

He did this by attempting to show that football coaches exert an incredibly high control over the lives of student athletes, in a way university officials don't have the authority to control regular students:

He said that his diet was closely managed:

He said that he was asked to pay for medical expenses out of pocket.

Of course, Northwestern's lawyers tried to to disprove every claim he made.

They argued that college football players are not paid:

Northwestern tried to argue that Colter was lying about the amount of work he put in:

Northwestern tried to argue that football helped Colter academically, providing him new thinking angles:

And that football gave him opportunities he wouldn't have otherwise had:

And Northwestern argued that despite the academic setbacks, Colter was able -- in fact, required, to some extents -- to complete his degree.

(It's important to note that this line of questioning led to the greatest zinger we'll see:)

Interestingly, uninvolved former NU football players had points to make about the minutiae of Colter's obviously one-sided points. Nate Williams pointed out football helped him get opportunities after college:

And that people left practice for class sometimes (although only a very little bit)

Former walk-on Ricky Weina seemed to take offense to the idea that walk-ons were allowed to leave practice early (a critical point, since Colter argues that scholarship = payment)

It's tough to figure out how to feel about this. As a Northwestern football fan, it is not enjoyable to see one of my favorite players in recent memory seizing at the opportunity to dish dirt about Northwestern.

Let's take a step back. If you're reading this, I imagine you are a fan of the sport of college football. College football exists because a long time ago, the rich kids going to colleges played something resembling the sport we currently call "football" against each other. These contests became progressively more and more popular, and the people playing them progressively resembled regular students less and less.

This is the reckoning of college football: The perfect kid at the perfect school is sitting on stage and swearing to tell the truth. And what he's saying requires a labor board and a team of lawyers to say whether he fits something he's supposed to be the ideal of.

But as college football became more and more popular, we never chose to examine why it exists. Instead, we invented an organization to regulate and preserve its existence, something they've done with an extensive series of rules and regulations. These rules are often arbitrary, occasionally unfair, and, in rare instances, the rules are actually obeyed by the schools they are meant to govern.

Amongst all these schools, Northwestern football is perhaps the model example of one that has done things as the NCAA wants things to be done. I don't say this as a Northwestern fan, but as an objective observer.

Northwestern graduates the vast majority of its student-athletes, despite the already rigorous demands for Northwestern students. It hasn't been charged with committing a major NCAA violation, one of the few Division I schools of which that is true. Its student-athletes are rarely criminally charged -- we still have to go back to 2009, when one player had a BB gun, which is legal almost every place besides Evanston. We can't recall any instance of Northwestern being accused of recruiting shadiness, with the possible exception of NU nearly signing a 16th player in a class with 15 spots this year, which did not come to pass.

Many have pointed out that this makes Northwestern the worst place for a union groundswell. And perhaps this is true. It is tough for a kid who graduated in a program that graduates everybody from a rigorous academic institution to argue that academics comes second, and a Northwestern lawyer is hammering him on that logical incongruity.

It's true. Kain Colter is the supposedly perfect kid, at the supposedly perfect school. That may make this an awful test case.

But Kain's participation here is an indicator of the incredibly broken nature of the sport we choose to be fans of. This is the reckoning of college football: The perfect kid at the perfect school is sitting on stage and swearing to tell the truth. And what he's saying requires a labor board and a team of lawyers to say whether he fits something he's supposed to be the ideal of. If Northwestern is wrong, nobody is right.

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