SBD/April 7, 2014/Colleges

Northwestern's Fitzgerald Reiterates Stance Against Unionization Effort Ahead Of Vote

Several players backed up Fitzgerald's opposition to unionizing
Northwestern Univ. football players on April 25 will vote on whether to unionize, but coach Pat Fitzgerald on Saturday said it is "in their best interests to say no," according to Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com. Fitzgerald said, "With the research that I've done, I'm going to stick to the facts and I'm going to do everything in my power to educate our guys. Our university is going to do that. We'll give them all the resources they need to get the facts." Fitzgerald on Wednesday "read a letter to players and sent it to their parents," but he is "prohibited from making promises to players about benefits they would receive if they vote against unionizing." He also "cannot make any threats or interrogate players on how they will vote." Several older NU players on Saturday "voiced their opposition to a union." NU C Brandon Vitabile: "A lot of guys feel the same as I do. Coach Fitz has done everything in his power and been a voice for us and he has gotten changes." He added players "have to realize the ramifications of what may occur" if the unionization efforts come to fruition. NU RB Venric Mark: "Things do need to change, and I hope the NCAA sees that. But at the end of the day, Northwestern treats us very well, and we do not need a third party to come in between us and the coaches" (ESPN.com, 4/5). In Chicago, Teddy Greenstein wrote Fitzgerald's message against the effort "got across." While several players "declined to say how they would vote," Vitabile, Mark, QB Trevor Siemian and WR Kyle Prater "all came out against" the effort. Given their "stature as team leaders, that casts serious doubt" as to whether the College Athletes Players Association will get the 50.1% it needs to "begin collective bargaining" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/6). Siemian: "I've been treated unbelievably, far exceeding my expectations" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 4/5).

NOT A SURE THING ANYMORE: ESPN's Rittenberg said it is "going to be a very interesting vote," as it is "hard to call it right now." Rittenberg: "It seems pretty 50-50 on the team, and the fact that a lot of the older players that are looked up to on that team seem to oppose the union could be important.” ESPN's Bram Weinstein asked if the NU players "feel threatened in any way.” Rittenberg: “It is a massive distraction. They are programmed to play football and to focus on winning Big Ten championships, and right now to practice during the spring. ... I don’t think they fully realize how big this petition, at least to petition for union back in January, would be. It has become a national story, they are always being talked about.” Rittenberg added, “Are they going to go down this route and potentially be pioneers as far as forming a union? I think that is a little bit intimidating for a lot of the players on that team, whether they want to be those guys.” Weinstein added, “We thought the ‘yes’ vote was a foregone conclusion. I guess we had better think otherwise” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 4/6).

HUMA'S HOPE
: In N.Y., Ben Strauss wrote under the header, "Voices Emerging Against A Union." CAPA President Ramogi Huma will be at NU to "press their case to the players in the coming weeks" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/5). Huma on Thursday at the Aspen Institute refuted that CAPA "wants pay for play." He said, "This is not about salary." He "reiterated his desire to focus on issues like closing the gap between scholarship amounts and the full cost of attendance, covering sports-related medical expenses, improving graduation rates and reducing concussions" (L.A. TIMES, 4/5).

SUPPORTING CAST: CBSSPORTS.com's Jeremy Fowler reported more than 50 former college players -- including several Pro Football HOFers and "prominent names -- have signed a 'Statement of Support' for the Ed O'Bannon class-action lawsuit against the NCAA over the right for players to use their name for commercial purposes." The list includes Texans RB Arian Foster, ESPN's Desmond Howard, former NBAer Nolan Smith, 10 Pro Football HOFers and Lions GM Martin Mayhew, among others (CBSSPORTS.com, 4/4).
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