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SBD/February 13, 2014/CollegesPrint All
Attorneys for both Northwestern Univ. and the school’s football players seeking to unionize “provided opening statements Wednesday in Chicago on the issue of whether college athletes are university employees," according to Alejandra Cancino of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Players and "other witnesses are expected to begin testifying next week in the same regional office of the National Labor Relations Board." Ultimately, the case "could end up before the NLRB" in DC. The group of players has "a sizable list of demands, which 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." Alex Barbour, an attorney representing NU, said that the players "are similar to graduate students." He cited an '04 case in which the NLRB "ruled that graduate students seeking to unionize at Brown University were not employees." John Adam, an attorney representing the players, said that the school "controls when and where they practice and their behavior on and off the field." He added that NU "generates huge revenues from their work as players and pays them in the form of scholarships or grants." Adam said that their role as athletes "is separate from their role as students and therefore they are employees of Northwestern." Former NLRB Chair William Gould IV said that the case "could take at least a year before it reached" the NLRB in DC and "could drag on even longer." Gould said, "The universities and the NCAA would do anything to dispute the case and stall the case because they know that time is their friend." He added that football players "who want to form a union will eventually graduate." Gould said that if the decision "is delayed long enough ... the union would lose the core of its supporters" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/13).
SORTING OUT THE FACTS: The AP's Michael Tarm noted both sides "acknowledged the key question was whether college athletes should be considered employees." Yesterday's hearing "was meant to identify main points of contention, not to thrash them out in detail." That "happens next week with three days of testimony." A decision on whether the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) "can organize could come soon after." One witness who "will testify next week for those petitioning for the union" will be outgoing NU QB Kain Colter (AP, 2/12). Adam said that CAPA is "not alleging that Northwestern University has violated NCAA rules." He said CAPA intends to "demolish the myth" created by the NCAA that student-athletes are not employees. In Chicago, Gruen & Guy note CAPA "aims to represent only those players who have received athletic scholarships." Barbour called this an "arbitrary grouping." He argued that the “scope of the unit” should also include walk-on players (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/13).
Rutgers Univ. yesterday announced that it has "agreed to pay" an $11.5M penalty for "withdrawing early" from the AAC, according to Patricia Alex of the Bergen RECORD. Rutgers will join the Big Ten on July 1, withdrawing "one year early from its membership in the AAC." School officials hope the new conference will "help its athletic department get out of the red and become self-supporting." Rutgers has "projected that over the next 12 years the increase in revenue from moving to the Big Ten" will approach $200M. Rutgers President Robert Barchi in a statement said, "One-time restructuring costs like this settlement and the costs associated with canceling a previous marketing contract are more than offset by anticipated revenues from the Big Ten and from our new marketing partner IMG College." Rutgers Dir of Media Relations E.J. Miranda also noted that it cost Rutgers $7M last year to "break its contract with Nelligan Sports Marketing." The school said that the new contract with IMG "could generate" $65M in revenue over the next decade, a number "twice as rich" as the deal with Nelligan. Rutgers, after announcing its intention to withdraw from the AAC, said that it faced $10M in "penalties from the conference," but yesterday said that the conference "actually was seeking" $15M from the school. Miranda said that the money to pay the penalty "will come from the athletic budget" (Bergen RECORD, 2/13).
SEPARATION ANXIETY: A school spokesperson said that Rutgers under the deal "will not pay the entire $11.5 million exit fee in a single check," as it already has paid $5M to the AAC -- $2.5M when it announced it was leaving last year and an additional $2.5M the conference withheld from the school last June. The spokesperson added that the remaining $6.5M "will be paid over four years, with Rutgers sending the first payment Sept. 1," and that the school also will receive a $1.5M payment from the AAC this spring for its December appearance in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl (NJ.com, 2/12). ESPN.com's Brian Bennett wrote under the header, "B1G Expects Easy Move For Terps, Rutgers." Big Ten Senior Associate Commissioner Mark Rudner said, "I think we’re in a pretty good place. We've sort of approached Rutgers and Maryland as we approached Nebraska three years ago: we acclimate them, help them, welcome them and integrate them. And then, we really go forward and don’t look back" (ESPN.com, 2/12).