Well, it went boom. College athletes decided to make the argument that they can unionize, and those college athletes happen to be Northwestern football players, led by Kain Colter.
This is a complicated issue that has already led to many inaccurate things being said, so the first step is realizing what's actually going on here. I'd take a gander at the Outside the Lines story, which is very full.
But a summary: This morning news broke that Colter and Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, had filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to become a union. To do this, they needed 30 percent of "employees" -- players on Northwestern's football team -- to sign cards. Reportedly, close to every player on the football team did this.
They hope to form an association called the College Athletes Players Association. As of now, they have made no claims to be interested in pay-for-play, but are interested in ensuring football players get long-term medical benefits, more help with concussions, funds to graduate after their eligibility expires, and stuff like the ability to be compensated for endorsement deals.
Fitz is down:
Kain and our student-athletes have followed their beliefs with great passion and courage. I'm incredibly proud of our young men! GO CATS!— Pat Fitzgerald (@coachfitz51) January 28, 2014
Jim Phillips said this:
Northwestern responds to its players leading labor movement: pic.twitter.com/nZ0i4y5KSD— SB Nation CFB (@SBNationCFB) January 28, 2014
Basically, both of them will not endorse this, because it is their job to not endorse this. But they both seem to understand what's going on here, and how it reflects well on Northwestern. The players involved have made it clear they have no qualms with a university that's given them a lot, but that they know there's something messed up at foot with the NCAA.
We're fans of a sport that doesn't pay its players. We all know that. Some of us are okay with it, arguing that an education/room/board is just payment. I think there's a world where that argument could make sense, and therefore I'm not going to blast anybody who has that opinion. Somebody envisioned that world when the NCAA was founded.
But I don't think we live in that world. Too many athletes leave college without degrees, or degrees that essentially mean nothing to them, and too many of them leave with lifelong injuries they're expected to pay for.
It's a world Kain Colter and the anonymous signatories seem to envision. If colleges actually held up their end of the bargain -- making sure their players graduated, making sure their players were healthy after the brutal injuries the players suffered wearing a university's name on their chest -- maybe a scholarship and room and board would be just payment.
It's also a world the NCAA wants to make sure never exists. You can tell this, because they're not very good at hiding it:
This probably wasn't the best response: pic.twitter.com/u9Y75oANda— Inside Northwestern (@insidenu) January 28, 2014
The NCAA is staring down a group of people asking for financial assistance for potential lifelong brain injuries and telling them college football is supposed to stimulate their brains.
Somewhere along the line, the path to helping students who are also athletes and the path to making the NCAA money split. Since then, the association has done its best to build legal barricades to ensure that they can keep their money. Today, a group of people asked them for something completely reasonable: the ability to bargain collectively. And the NCAA's response was to appeal to an ideal they haven't given a crap about in forever.
Maybe these kids are bluffing, and they're greedy jerks whose only goal is to establish pay-for-play later. But for now, they're just trying to establish that world where the current system -- which doesn't pay athletes -- is workable and fair for all parties involved. And I don't really see how you can be against that.
Northwestern could have won the Big Ten this year, or at least that's what we told ourselves in August. They didn't. They failed miserably in that regard.
But a team wins the Big Ten every year. It's not particularly special. Northwestern's actually done it several times in the past.
Today, Northwestern football took the initiative to do something that could change a sport for the better. Kain Colter, a kid hoping to get drafted into the NFL in a few months, took responsibility for something that could very well hurt his ability to get drafted into the NFL. He put himself in a media ruckus and told everybody not to bother his coaches or teammates, but look right to him.
People often talk about "winning the right way" or "playing the game the right way" or whatever, and I'm not really sure what that is. It seems to imply some level of being pleased when you win a game, but celebrating extremely quietly. But if I had to hand-pick a way for players on my sports team to act, they'd be pretty similar to Northwestern's players. They saw something wrong, something that many people have identified as wrong, but something only they can act on. And they're standing up, when they'd probably be personally better off sitting down.
Go Cats, and stuff.
Responses: This is what a Northwestern player had to say on Reddit:
This is Northwestern running back Stephen Buckley, who clearly sees this as a fight:
And then the grenade was thrown.....— Stephen Buckley (@StephenABuckley) January 28, 2014
This is Northwestern commit Auston Anderson had to say:
And this is how Northwestern defensive end Deonte Gibson had to say: