SBD/April 8, 2014/Colleges

CAPA Optimistic Of Majority Vote To Unionize, As Other States Begin Research of Labor Laws

Huma said unionized players will not have to necessarily adopt the NCPA's platform
Despite several veteran Northwestern football players coming out as being "inclined to vote against unionization," College Athletes Players Association President Ramogi Huma yesterday said that he "remains hopeful the team will achieve the necessary majority vote," according to Tom Farrey of ESPN.com. Huma said, "The reasons they signed the union cards are as valid as ever. I'm still optimistic. When these guys signed up, an overwhelming majority of them did so." Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald on Saturday "campaigned against the union." CAPA needs 50.1% of the "76 eligible voters -- those players with remaining NCAA eligibility -- in a Sept. 25 election to be certified to represent the players." Huma also is president of the National College Players Association, an "advocacy group he formed" in '01. However, Huma noted that if the NU players "vote to unionize, they don't have to necessarily adopt the NCPA's platform that focuses on health and safety, educational trust funds and scholarships up to the cost of attendance." They can do "as much or as little with the power they choose to acquire via unionization, including nothing at all" (ESPN.com, 4/7). Former NU K Jeff Budzien, who was a senior on the '13 team, talked about the presentation CAPA made to the players and said they were "presented a very rose-colored presentation, and they almost unanimously voted to be deemed as employees or to unionize.” Budzien was not at the meeting, but he said, "From what I heard, it was a very one-sided presentation. A lot of it probably made sense and was compelling, and I think that made a big impression on the impressionable young men that were there” ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 4/7). 

HANDLING THINGS THE RIGHT WAY? ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel writes NU has "played its hand in the unionization issue beautifully." The university "never blamed its student-athletes," and while Fitzgerald has made his opposition to the union public, he "has done so with facts and without histrionics." The "last thing Northwestern needs is NCAA president Mark Emmert making headlines by calling unionization 'grossly inappropriate.'" He could "best help Northwestern by going on vacation for the rest of April" (ESPN.com, 4/8). But The Nation's Dave Zirin said, "Shame on Pat Fitzgerald times a thousand. He is a reflection of the ways in which NCAA football has become a big, multi-billion dollar business.” Zirin: "CAPA is not promising the world to the players. ... They want a seat at the table to talk about their education and to talk about health care. ... So for Pat Fitzgerald to bring out the big guns, and with all the power dynamics at play, when you have a head coach saying he doesn’t want this to get done, I think it is actually a shameful act on his part given how he benefits from these young men" ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 4/7). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said of Fitzgerald, "He works for Northwestern University. His alma mater is Northwestern University. It is very reasonable for the football coach at Northwestern University dealing with smart kids to say, ‘You know what, I admire what they’re doing but I’m running a tight ship here and I don’t know that I want a union and I’m proof that you don’t need a union.’ I think he can take that position very comfortably” (“PTI,” ESPN, 4/7).

COULD NOTRE DAME BE NEXT? In Indianapolis, Anthony Schoettle notes if NU "is successful in forming a union, Notre Dame could be one of the first schools to follow suit, for two reasons." Notre Dame’s football team -- with its "national following and sizable contract with NBC -- is one of the biggest revenue-generating operations in college sports." Also, while United Steelworkers officials said that they are "taking on the Northwestern case pro bono and insist this is not a grab for new members or cash, there’s considerable upside for USW to unionize the Fighting Irish." A union movement at another school "won’t likely start until after the Northwestern case is settled." One reason is that Chicago -- where the NU case was decided -- and South Bend "are in different NLRB regions" (INDIANAPOLIS BUSINESS JOURNAL, 4/5 issue).

CONNECTICUT DOING ITS HOMEWORK: In Hartford, Daniela Altimari notes Connecticut state Rep. Patricia Dillon is "looking into legislation that would allow student athletes at the state's public universities" to unionize. Dillon yesterday said that she is "researching whether there are legal impediments preventing athletes at the state public colleges and universities from joining a union." The NLRB ruling "applies only to private colleges, not public institutions" such as UConn. Dillon cited "arcane NCAA rules as part of the problem facing student athletes." She said, "A student athlete is not considered an employee, but it's clear that some student athletes have very onerous work requirements." Dillon said that she has "asked legislative staff to begin researching the matter." Altimari notes Dillon may "try to raise the unionization issue this session, although she acknowledged that time is tight." The General Assembly will "adjourn for the year at midnight on May 7" (HARTFORD COURANT, 4/8).

PREVENTIVE CARE? In Cleveland, Doug Lesmerises noted an amendment that says that "college athletes in Ohio are not employees" was "introduced to the state’s budget review" yesterday. It was "a pre-emptive statement by legislators in reaction" to the NU situation. An Ohio State spokesperson said that "no one involved with Ohio State's government affairs office was aware of the amendment beforehand or had anything to do with it being introduced." OSU AD Gene Smith said that no one with the athletic department "was involved with the amendment" (CLEVELAND.com, 4/7).
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