SBD/May 15, 2014/Colleges

Northwestern AD Opposes Unionization, But Says Athletes Deserve Voting Privilages

Phillips praised NU players for raising issues with the college sports structure
Northwestern AD Jim Phillips "may be the most popular Big Ten athletic director at the league’s spring meetings," as his peers are interested how he "has handled the decision" handed down by the NLRB's Chicago office regarding the status of his football players as employees, according to Mike Carmin of the Lafayette JOURNAL & COURIER. Illinois AD Mike Thomas said, "Jim is one of the rock stars in the business. We have the right person going at it. I think the (student-athletes) need to be heard, they need to have a stronger voice, but I don’t think that’s the way to go about achieving those things." Phillips said he has been "at peace with this thing from the very beginning" because of how the players have handled the situation (Lafayette JOURNAL & COURIER, 5/15).'s Adam Rittenberg noted Tuesday was the "first time" Phillips had addressed the unionization effort in depth. During a break at the Big Ten meetings, Phillips "outlined why he opposes a union but also praised the Northwestern players for raising issues that need to be addressed in a collegiate model that has been too resistant to change." He is "proud of the issues players have raised and not upset by the attention brought on Northwestern's program." Phillips: "I know (unionization) is not the right mechanism for change nationally, but areas of welfare and health and safety, those are the right things for us to be talking about." Phillips thinks that players "deserve not only a voice, but voting power on major issues that affect them." He added, "No one is living the experience like they are. We can do that in a way that makes sense, and it's necessary. ... You're going to see some things on cost of attendance that we have to get our arms around" (, 4/13). 

DO THE MATH:'s Rittenberg noted Big Ten schools are "in agreement that increasing the value of athletic scholarships to federal cost-of-attendance figures needs to happen." But the increase "means different things for different institutions and different leagues, as some, like the Big Ten, sponsor more sports than others." Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez said, "It varies from $1,200-$4,900 (per scholarship) just in our league. I think ours is in the $3,000-$4,000 range, so we're probably talking about another $1 million to $1.5 million just on cost of attendance. I'm very supportive of that." Michigan State AD Mark Hollis, who said that the cost-of-attendance plan would be about $1M for the school, thinks that there "needs to be a 'firewall' between athletic departments and financial aid offices in how numbers are calculated" (, 5/14). Thomas said that a "full cost-of-attendance plan for all Illini athletes would cost approximately" $1M per year (, 5/13). Meanwhile, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said that the conference "would 'aggressively' defend itself against several antitrust lawsuits challenging the collegiate model, even if the cases go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court" (, 5/14). 

LEADER OF THE PACK: In Des Moines, Andrew Logue wrote, "If you're looking for a villain, Jim Delany is the guy. Just give him credit for being a visionary, as well." It is "easy to blame" Delany for "nudging us down a path of conference realignment, athlete unrest and possible Supreme Court rulings." But the "truth is, we were probably heading in that direction anyway." Delany said, "I think it’s really an issue that people want college athletics to succeed, and they want the imbalances to be brought into balance." Logue noted things are "at a tipping point, but life under the NCAA umbrella was never as clean or homespun as we pretended." And Delany "doesn’t mind making a splash." He "isn’t trying to dump on the mid-major conferences by seeking more institutional control, but he doesn’t want to be weighed down by them, either." To his "credit, Delany was touting athlete trust funds and expanded educational opportunities years before the NCAA was legally cornered" (, 5/14).
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