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April 25, 2014

Lose the battle, win the war

Friday's union vote at Northwestern will have all the drama of a North Korean election. The outcome is known before any of the votes are cast.

Two outcomes, really. Kain Colter and the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) will probably lose this battle, but they may have already won the war.

Wildcat football players are voting this morning at McGaw Hall to decide whether they will be represented by a union. They won that right when the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled on March 26 that Northwestern players were employees, not students, and had the right to unionize.

We won't know the official results of this historic vote for quite some time. The NLRB has agreed to review Northwestern's appeal of the regional director's ruling, so the NLRB will impound today's ballots and they won't be counted until that appeal process has concluded. That could take several days or several months. And if the NLRB overturns the original ruling and declares the players to be students, the ballots will be destroyed and the outcome will never be announced.

It has become apparent over the last several weeks, however, that the players are likely to vote against unionization. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has made it very clear that he wants his players to vote against it. The popular player's coach has made this a choice between him and CAPA for the hearts and minds of his players, and you can guess how that's going to turn out. Team leaders such as Trevor Siemian and Collin Ellis came out and said they are voting no, and even former players like Dan Persa have been outspoken in their opposition to the effort.

Put yourself in the players' shoes: Who would you vote for? And remember that your coach is the guy you've trusted since Day 1, has led you throughout your college career and -- this is important -- will continue to be your leader and de-facto boss while any resulting changes work their way through the courts, NLRB appeals, or any other governing body's process for what could be years.

But regardless of whether or not the players decide to unionize, Colter and CAPA may have already won on a much grander stage. Their movement has created an unprecedented atmosphere for change throughout college sports. All of the media attention they have garnered has put the NCAA on the defensive as it fights for its survival, and it has caused the organization to do some very uncharacteristic things.

After the NCAA national championship game, for example, tournament Most Outstanding Player Shabazz Napier complained that he often goes to bed hungry. Within days the NCAA, which typically moves as swiftly as the tectonic plates, struck as quickly as an earthquake to give all Division I scholarship athletes unlimited meal allowances.

Then yesterday came the landmark announcement that the NCAA was giving more control to the five major conferences. The Division I Board of Directors -- which is composed of university presidents, the very symbols of the status quo -- endorsed a sweeping restructuring process that, they say, will be "more agile to adapt to changes in the division, give student-athletes a greater voice in decision-making and provide more autonomy to the five major conferences."

In effect, they threw up their hands and said, "We can't fix this; you go head and try."

If the restructuring is approved by NCAA members in a vote later this summer, it will give autonomy to the five conferences -- the ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, PAC-12 and SEC -- in the following areas:

  • Financial aid, including full cost of attendance and scholarship guarantees;

  • Insurance, including policies that protect future earnings;

  • Academic support, particularly for at-risk student-athletes; and

  • Other support, such as travel for families, free tickets to athletics events, and expenses associated with practice and competition (such as parking).
  • Does that list look familiar? That's because it's similar to the issues that Colter and CAPA raised in their initial press conference in Chicago.

    In announcing the new NCAA reorganization on BTN yesterday, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany characterized the NCAA as being "stuck in the mud," a bloated organization of hundreds of members that wasn't nimble enough to keep up with the needs of "the 21st-century student-athlete."

    Colter and CAPA gave them the first push they needed to get out of that mud. But for the NCAA, the footing will still be slippery.

    Florida NEWS


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