In an unprecedented move, Northwestern players announced that they will attempt to unionize, forming the first union in major college athletics.
The movement comes on the heels of Kain Colter's show of support for APU in the fall, but this is much more than a demonstration, as ESPN's Outside the Lines reported:
Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, filed a petition in Chicago on behalf of football players at Northwestern University, submitting the form at the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board.
Backed by the United Steelworkers union, Huma also filed union cards signed by an undisclosed number of Northwestern players with the NLRB -- the federal statutory body that recognizes groups that seek collective bargaining rights.
The first step in the process will be proving the players are employees. As pointed out by John Infante of AthleticScholarships.net, there is precedent for both sides of that argument. Read his article for a better expert opinion on the case.
The courts will work themselves out, but perhaps the biggest takeaway from this story is what the players are asking for. The debate about college athletes seeking compensation has often centered around athletes receiving royalties from jersey sales and television money. The NCAA is refusing to budge on those issues and has been taken to court by former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon.
But that's not what Northwestern's players are asking for. They have much more attainable goals, many of which pay-for-play opponents — NU football coach Pat Fitzgerald included — support. The College Athlete Players Association website provides more insight into the goals:
- Guaranteed coverage for sports-related medical expenses for current and former players.
- Minimizing the risk of sports-related traumatic brain injury. Reduce contact in practices like the NFL and Pop Warner have done, place independent concussion experts on the sidelines, and establish uniform return to play protocols.
- Improving graduation rates. Establish an educational trust fund to help former players complete their degree and reward those who graduate on time.
- Consistent with evolving NCAA regulations or future legal mandates, increasing athletic scholarships and allowing players to receive compensation for commercial sponsorships.
- Securing due process rights. Players should not be punished simply because they are accused of a rule violation, and any punishments levied should be consistent across campuses.
An unidentified NU player explained the movement further on Reddit:
NU player here on a throwaway. This isn't about getting paid. What it is about is protection. Many of us will have numerous injuries throughout our playing careers. A group of those players will continue to feel the effects of those injuries long after their playing days are over. The goal is to have some sort of medical protection if we need surgeries stemming from injuries sustained while playing for our university. Another goal is graduate school for those who were fortunate enough to play as a true Freshman. Most student-athletes get redshirted in their first year, and receive one year of grad school payed for in their fifth year of eligibility. We feel as though it is fair to ask for the same investment from the university all around. It isn't about getting an extra $200 a month for spending. We have our stipend, and if we budget correctly we are able to make it stretch for the month. Would it be nice to have some part of jersey sales or memorabilia sales? Absolutely. But that is not the goal as of right now.
Northwestern's players are asking for things that many leaders in higher education have admitted need to be changed. However, since the NCAA dragged its heels on reform, NU's players have found another avenue to get the support they feel they deserve. The fact that it's protection, not royalties, that the players are asking for makes this case even more attainable and separates it from Ed O'Bannon's NCAA lawsuit.