SBD/February 26, 2014/Colleges

Three Former Northwestern Football Players Dispute Colter's Testimony At NLRB Hearing

Ward's testimony was viewed as the most effective of Northwestern's nine witnesses
Three former Northwestern Univ. football players yesterday at an NLRB hearing in Chicago spoke of a "supportive coach who moved practice times so they could attend classes and relaxed rules so they could study for tests, contrasting former quarterback Kain Colter's description of a grueling football schedule that led him to choose an easier major," according to Alejandra Cancino of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Yesterday "marked the fifth and final day of testimony" before an NLRB officer, and an NLRB Regional Dir is now "expected to rule within four to six weeks whether football players are employees of the university." NU yesterday called Doug Bartels, a "walk-on who earned a scholarship" and became a starting OL; John Henry Pace, a former walk-on LS; and Patrick Ward, who started at LT and "blossomed into an Academic All-American" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/26). USA TODAY's Kevin Trahan notes all three players "were high achievers in college, and unlike Colter, testified that they were never steered by the university away from pursuing a tough major or taking tough classes." However, College Athletes Players Association attorney Gary Kohlman "pushed the point that for football players, football comes first." He "read a passage in the team rulebook that states, 'When we travel, we are traveling for one reason, to win a football game'" (USA TODAY, 2/26).

DETAILS ON THE TESTIMONY: In Chicago, Sandra Guy reports NLRB Hearing Officer Joyce Hofstra yesterday declined to let CAPA lawyers "ask one of the former players if he considered his playing and practicing time a full-time job." But the CAPA lawyers "did get the former players to agree that they would have suffered consequences if they had violated team rules -- part of their argument that coaches can treat players unfairly and players have no representation in those cases" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/26). Also in Chicago, Seth Gruen writes Ward "was the most effective of the nine witnesses the university called to testify" in the five-day hearing. He was the "only witness on either side to grant an interview after his testimony." Ward said, "What we heard in here is indicative that the union should be dismissed" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/26).

WHAT CASE COMES DOWN TO: SI.com's Chris Johnson noted the NLRB when making its decision on this case "will focus on whether the facts submitted into the record through testimony provide sufficient proof" that NU football players are university employees. Whether NU "actually treats its football players like employees is beside the point." At issue is whether NU "can treat them like employees" (SI.com, 2/25). Meanwhile, NU football coach Pat Fitzgerald was asked what he would say of Colter in light of Colter's testimony against the program and responded, "He's a terrific person, a terrific leader and a very bright person who worked hard in the classroom" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/26).
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