By now, you have hopefully read the reaction of former linebacker Nate Williams, and the first hand reactions of Kevin Trahan and Rohan Nadkarni, among others. All three people are close to the program, in-tune with the day-to-day details of the hearing, and provide great insight into how Northwestern is being turned against itself. There are some potentially significant implications of what that could mean on Central Street, but I do not feel that everything said necessarily reflects the feelings of those further removed from the program and ultimately determine Northwestern’s image.
While most fans are aware of the unionization attempt, I have not seen anything to suggest that many are paying close attention. They may have different thoughts and take different sides, but there hasn’t been any wedge driven between the fanbase and either the program or the players. The “half-truths,” as some have phrased it, presented in the testimony of both Kain Colter and the athletic department are a bit disheartening, but understandable given the situation. It’s a bad situation and both sides are being forced to highlight half the picture while diminishing the reality of the other half. But I have not seen anything to indicate that this will affect the fan base.
As Nate Williams wrote, “While the program and athletic department do, in fact, do things ‘the right way,’ they still do it by the book, but that book is flawed.” We already knew that football players have to spend far more than 20 hours a week playing, practicing, meeting, conditioning, and studying the playbook. The exact details of how the NCAA counts those hours, regardless of the absurdity, is not going to change how most people think of Northwestern. The image is going to stay intact.
Despite the local media coverage, the hearing has not captured the attention of the national media. Even those who cover college football and recognize the potential significance of the unionization attempt are not focusing much on the details of what has happened through three days of testimony. And it’s February, when there is little else going on. They are not going to change their tune on Northwestern’s image, either.
What I find most disheartening about this process is how it has, to an extent, turned the athletic department against Kain Colter and the interest of the players who are supporting the union. It is not a fun situation for anyone involved. This has been a common theme among those in attendance, but Shawn Sullivan, former Director of Sales and Marketing for Northwestern athletics, may have put it best:
Feeling for my former colleagues testifying in NLRB/NU case. You work in an ath dept FOR the athletes. Now, pitted against.
— Shawn K. Sullivan (@shawnksullivan) February 20, 2014
With Seth Gruen and Teddy Greenstein, among others, reporting that Pat Fitzgerald is likely to testify tomorrow, the risk of creating a rift within the program becomes real. He knows better than anyone how such a situation will have to be handled, but it is still dangerous. There has been a buffer when the interests of the players who support the union have been pitted against Northwestern lawyers and administration. Northwestern will have to decide if the testimony of Fitzgerald is important enough to their case to risk destroying that buffer and alienating his players.
He may not testify, though. Perhaps there has or will be a rift between Kain Colter and the program. We don’t know. To date, there has not been anything to suggest this has become a divisive issue or distraction within the program. As a fan, we can only hope it remains that way and whatever wounds have been opened through the first three days of testimony can be healed quickly.
One thing this hearing is showing us is that this is not a black and white situation. It’s okay to live in the gray. Northwestern tries their best to adhere to flawed NCAA regulations and their own standards, but they are not perfect. Neither is the opposing side in this hearing. You can disagree with the union and still support the players. You can be in favor of the union and even disagree with how Northwestern has handled certain things and still support the individuals in the administration and the school.
The first three days of testimony will not hurt Northwestern’s image. We can only hope that day four will be no different.