The news that the Northwestern football team, led by former quarterback Kain Colter, made the formal move to apply for unionization with the National Labor Relations Board drew big headlines as the Wildcats rocked the collegiate athletics boat. Although there was plenty of support for the players' cause, there were also ample folks lined up to bash the mission.
Plenty ignored the fact that Colter and the group made no mention of pay-for-play, opting to instantly talk about why the players could not and should not receive a share of the revenue. A share of revenue that the cause never even asks about.
Others immediately went after the strike angle. After all, if the players collectively bargain rights, then they would have the ability to strike, much like the NFL or MLB, which led to angry fans with interrupted plans. Allen Kenney at Blatant Homerism did a solid job debunking that issue, noting the abundance of willing participants and the economics of the matter.
The problem? Folks lining up to fight a battle that is not even being waged, while ignoring the issues.
A Reddit post by an anonymous Northwestern Wildcat player gave information on the cause, specifically addressing it is not about pay-for-play. The players also released a statement that Rohan Nadkarni posted via Twitter.
Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune spoke with Colter and detailed much of the mission.
The group has a sizable list of demands that includes financial coverage for sports-related medical expenses, placing independent concussion experts on the sidelines during games, establishing an educational trust fund to help former players graduate and “due process” before a coach could strip a player of his scholarship for a rules violation.
The organization also wants players to receive “cost of attendance” stipends—most major-conference schools agree—and allow them to be compensated for commercial sponsorships “consistent with evolving NCAA regulations.”
There is no push for “pay-for-play” salaries, though.
“A lot of people will think this is all about money; it’s not,” Colter told the Tribune on Tuesday morning. “We’re asking for a seat at the table to get our voice heard.”
The chasm between fans and media siding against the players is one that runs deep. More importantly, it is one that truly is rooted in the belief that these guys are simply "lucky to be there" and should "take whatever they get."
Yet people are still lined up to fight.
Fight against independent concussion experts on sidelines to protect players—despite seeing players take crushing blows to the head week after week, only to go back into the game after quick evaluations, or worse, no assessment at all.
An independent assessment, not one guided by the team personnel, would give a more fair judgement. A judgement not tied to the players', coaches' or team's goals or desires.
Fight against due process for players who are stripped of scholarships for team rules violations.
As teams "manage rosters," they find a way to kick players out of programs for everything from missing classes to a first failed drug test. A review board would help standardize how these events are handled. It would force coaches to be more fair, across the board. The third-string safety would receive the same punishment as the starting left tackle.
More importantly, if the grand plan were to come to fruition, schools would be on level playing fields. What warrants a dismissal at Georgia would also work with what generates a similar result at Nebraska or Stanford. Protecting players at different schools and achieving a level of uniform enforcement.
Fight against full-cost stipends for an already proven scholarship gap.
The NCAA, major conferences and the players all acknowledge the scholarship gap that exists between what is given and what it actually costs to live. The NCAA has even gone so far as to pass the measure, before having it voted down by smaller member institutions. Schools want to make this happen, and helping provide relief is something in which many of the major parties involved already believe.
Fight against a four-year player using his fifth year to attend grad school.
The NCAA currently gives players five years to play four seasons. For redshirted players, that means graduating in four and then getting free grad school. This movement is in favor of affording the same benefit to players who play in their freshman season. Instead of only rewarding the players who sit out with that extra year, let all players have access to the furthered education.
This College Athletes Players Association has very specific interest and points. The group is taking a stand because, despite the NCAA pushing for a cause, such as the stipend, or conferences stumping for progress, such as Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany's lifetime education movement, nothing positive has happened. Instead of people speaking around them, this group of players is pushing to speak for themselves.
Fight against the real and valid facets of the mission the NCPA has listed on the website.
Those opposed to the union are against health care for athletics-related injuries. In favor of the transfer restrictions that coaches place on kids out of fear and spite. Against taking legitimate measures to increase graduation rates. In favor of scholarships being pulled away from players due to injuries. Against universal safety standards within collegiate athletics.
And against players in good academic standing finishing their degrees when the sport is finished with them.
These are the issues at the core of the movement. These are the issues people are fighting against when they push against the union. This is not a fight against a strike or pay-for-play, it is a fight against safeguarding the quality of the collegiate athletes' experience.
The players have to make this push for themselves. Sitting and waiting for the other parts of the system to get around to doing the right thing has taken long enough. For Colter and his teammates, it was time to force the issue.