Northwestern players file petition to form a union

Submitted by UMGoRoss on January 28th, 2014 at 10:30 AM

Northwestern players have filed a petition with the NLRB to be recognized as a union. It appears that this was in part led by Kain Colter. Will be interesting to see how this plays out, as this, along witht he O'Bannon case, could have huge ramifications.…





January 28th, 2014 at 10:40 AM ^

The possible ramifications are mind-boggling.  This could end up anywhere from NW squashing the union and only having 40 players next year to all players being paid within the next few years.  

I wish they would just let players take money from boosters.  It would even the playing field for clean teams against the SEC or teams like Ohio State, Oregon, or USC and it would allow players to see what they can make on the free market.  

Also, how will Title IX fit in?  


January 28th, 2014 at 10:52 AM ^

They are representing their school, and they are doing it very well. These kids are free advertisement for the school and the businesses that support the school. Every time you see these guys on the sidelines holding a Gatorade towel or cup that is free advertisement. They wear adidas or nike or underarmor shoes and clothes, that is free advertisement. The university sells shirts and jerseys with these kids names and numbers on them. The money from these kids lines the pockets of the universities. Sure we will give you 50-100k for education, while we make millions. Seems like a raw deal there.

South Bend Wolverine

January 28th, 2014 at 11:00 AM ^

If they don't like the deal, they have every right to enter the free market & sell their skills there.  Get some elite HS recruits & some disaffected underclassmen with talent together, get some investors, and set it up.  Otherwise, they can quit bitching.  Clearly the college model has a lot to offer over the minors, as college hockey still attracts tons of NHL-bound players who had the option of getting paid for their services.  It's as simple as that - if they don't like the college system, no one is putting a gun to their head forcing them to sign on for it.  If they think they can sell their skills for more than the HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of dollars they already get (scholarship money, training, travel, clothing/equipment, professional development, private tutoring, etc., etc., etc.), then let them go on the market and make that case to investors.  This is America.


January 28th, 2014 at 2:03 PM ^

They only have a right to form a union under the National Labor Relations Act if they are employees. I don't believe they qualify as employees but if the individuals on scholarship are employees then the walk ons are as well. They are performing the same functions. That would implicate the Fair Labor Standards Act which guarantees a minimum wage to employees. An employer who "suffers or permits" an individual to perform work is required to pay minimum wage. If these players are found to be employees lawyers will be filing lawsuits against every team in the country. The back wages owed, liquidated damages and attorneys fees will destroy many programs.


January 28th, 2014 at 12:48 PM ^

There is quite a bit of collusion between the NCAA and the NFL when it comes to getting kids into the league through alternative means; name me a guy who made a totally normal career in the NFL without at least trying the conventional college path?  

Furthermore, all of this talk about the "free" money they get through scholarships, training table, etc. drives me insane.  The school sets the tuition numbers and then basic reimburses itself via some money transfers from the AD, which at most schools relies on the academic institution for at least part of the funding.  It's all accounting, not some massive transfer of wealth that students get to tangibly own.  And as for all the other "benefits", I would argue that many of those are mandatory elements of being part of the team (such as training table, diet requirements, etc.), no different than me receiving access and training on various software packages while a graduate student to help in research and class management.  Again, it's not like they handed me thousands of dollars to figure it out on my own.  And last time I checked, schools have graduate student unions to protect their members.  It's a right you have in an (increasingly shrinking) number of states.

The "free market" doesn't exist in most college sports because there is 1 professional league for most sports, if even on exists.  All the leagues have long histories of relying on government acceptance of monopolies, of tax-free statuses, of media rights that allow them to control virtually every element of the product and the players involved.  There is one sanctioned way of doing it, and if you deviate the leagues are administrators at schools are basically given carte blanche to punish you without reprecussions.  Sure, you can wait 3 years after HS to apply to the draft, hope a team is willing to send a scout out to see you, somehow convince them that even though you didn't play a "real" game for those years that you are still as talented as you were as a HS senior, and then maybe catch on with a team.  By comparison, if I want to apply for a job at a company and they say no because I don't have a degree, there's a good chance I can apply somewhere else, possibly dozens of other places, and maybe one of them will give me a chance.  But with the NFL and the NBA, you basically have one or two ways in (I know the NBA has the D-league and overseas, so that's progress) and that's it, and if you take the only reasonable one in college football you are given no control or agency over those who profit from your work.  But oh yeah, you get a college education, provided you are still producing on the field and don't get hurt.

I'm not saying NW is doing it the right way with a union for all, but people acting like a bunch of college students are the bastards in this equation is insane.

snarling wolverine

January 28th, 2014 at 1:50 PM ^

I don't agree with you on this:

Furthermore, all of this talk about the "free" money they get through scholarships, training table, etc. drives me insane. The school sets the tuition numbers and then basic reimburses itself via some money transfers from the AD, which at most schools relies on the academic institution for at least part of the funding. It's all accounting, not some massive transfer of wealth that students get to tangibly own

First, if you're giving a few hundred people a free college education, yes, that does cost the school money.  Whether it comes from the AD, or the school itself, someone's paying for them to go for free when everyone else has to pay tuition - and this is an era of crazy-expensive tuition.  Likewise, all that food they're getting at training table, the coaching they get - that's not free for the school, either.

Second, regardless of where that money comes from, there is no doubt that getting a free education, in an era in which other students may be paying $200K for the same, is a huge benefit.  Many athletes may not recognize the value of this at the time, but it's huge.  They can walk away with a debt-free college degree, while their classmates may be stuck paying back their education for years.  And then there are the huge networking benefits that come from having been a college athlete.  Many schools openly advertise to recruits that they "take care of their own" after they've graduated - i.e., their alumni who own businesses will find them jobs.

There are aspects of the system that could use reform, yes.  I believe that there should be four-year scholarships, for instance.  But it's not a bad deal for the vast majority of athletes.  Most are not going to be professional athletes, and even those who do often don't make enough to live off down the road.  That debt-free education and the networking opportunities can come in very handy down the road.






January 28th, 2014 at 3:18 PM ^

See, I guess I'm not as convinced it is a totally "free" education.  If you are on academic scholarship, you probably have some grade requirements and maybe some work-study program, but that's about it.  With athletics, you have a massive number of requirements - hours of practice, "optional" training table and off-season workouts, limited class selections because, you know, you have to be at practice from 2-4, then video sessions from 4:30-6, etc.  And I knew athletes at UM, and they certainly didn't describe the teams going out of their way to help them perform well in the classroom or pick particularly tough majors.  You were expected to be successful on the field or court; as long as you stayed eligible, they didn't give a crap what your major was but actively disuaded people from "hard" ones because of the time conflicts.

I do think we are on the same page that athletes benefit from scholarships at schools; alumni connections are great if you can get them (not everyone cares if you were the backup RB or 8th OL), and walking away "debt free" is great, though there are lots of students who don't play athletics who can leave reasonably unscathed through a combination of scholarships, work-study, and the like.  But yes, having that option to leave with a great education debt-free is a tangible benefit.  But I'm more cynical that the schools are in the business of making good student-athletes, and that's why I get driven crazy by the argument that these kids are given effectively no-strings-attached educations.


January 28th, 2014 at 4:23 PM ^

Nobody's ever called it a no-strings-attached education.  Everyone accepts that there's hard work to be done.  But many people are also convinced that what the players receive now is adequate or close to adequate compensation for those efforts.  "Reasonably unscathed" is not the same thing as "no future obligations whatsoever" which is what athletes have, so there's a pretty good proportionality between effort and reward going on here.


January 28th, 2014 at 5:29 PM ^

I guess, but it does seem like a large number of people who are convinced it is "adequate" are (a) administrators, (b) coaches, (c) the major leagues, and (d) third-parties like fans.  And unions exist not for everyone; the goal may be universal membership, but they don't need to be.  Some people can be very happy with the status quo, but if a section of people don't agree (and based on NW, O'Bannon, etc. in recent months, it is at least a vocal minority), they should be allowed to voice their displeasure and act accordingly.  I'm not saying the union is the best idea, but I am taking issue with people basically saying "you've got a good gig, shut up about it" while kind of ignoring the fact that some of those athletes aren't that happy and may want a different setup.


January 28th, 2014 at 5:53 PM ^

However, students who aren't athletes aren't providing a service to the institution. The arguement that other students don't get free education doesn't really hold up in my opnion. The athletic department is paying for the scholarships (through fan money and contract deals) but they still have a lot of money after these costs.  


January 28th, 2014 at 3:21 PM ^

Oh, I have $85k+ in student loans.  I totally recognize that.  But I was able to take out those loans on my own volition, and while in school I worked and got paid.  I also was able to pick my creditors, which I guess is kind of like recruiting but a bit less one-sided.

My point isn't that other people don't have it rough with school, only that acting like this is all free for the athletes and they should be happy with anything the school gives them sounds a bit like jealousy.


January 28th, 2014 at 2:30 PM ^

"If they don't like the deal, they have every right to enter the free market & sell their skills there."  Not according to the United States Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit, they don't.  Athletes have fought that battle and lost.  The NFL and NBA, at the NCAA's request, require athletes to have post-high school experience.  College players are barred from the relevant labor markets due to dubious regulatory concerns.

If you are truly a free-market thinker here, you say let colleges pay stars according to their potential value to the program.  What you are supporting is actually a captured regulatory state. 


January 28th, 2014 at 2:41 PM ^

There's nothing dubious. They are rules of the league and restricting their talent pool in any way, shape or form does not help the league.

The limit, in the NFL at least, is for safety. The NBA is probably more about maturity off the court - but there are real reasons they exist. There's also the requirement of attaining necessary skills. I could not receive admission to the bar without going to law school (theoretically there may be a way but practically not). I can't sue the bar for requiring me to attain some training first. 

Nothing in the NFL or NBA's rules says that the only alternative is the amateur route through the NCAA. There is absolutely nothing stopping anyone from setting up a minor league in either sport or for a kid to go play in Canada or anywhere else. The fact that a minor league hasn't been established means that no one thinks it's viable, probably because most of the athletes would take the current deal they have now in the face of the alternative. It's probably also because people pay to go to a Michigan game because it's Michigan, fergodssakes, and not because Denard is fast. I don't think 110,000 would go see the Grand Rapids Gearshafts because they had a fast guy with a nice smile playing for them and a couple of other guys who are fun to watch. I also don't think Denard would be better off having not gone to college. 


January 28th, 2014 at 2:55 PM ^

Even after that ruling, I am pretty sure that there are several US players that are playing in the NBA that have never stepped foot on a campus.  Not to mention the hundreds of Euro's that seemed to manage to get to the league without enrolling in a university.   There ARE other avenues. It is not up to the leagues to pick them or create them or support them. 






January 28th, 2014 at 3:06 PM ^

College players are barred from the relevant labor markets due to dubious regulatory concerns. 

I'm not sure why this is a problem.  Since child labor laws exist, I think everyone agrees that there is some benefit in restricting the labor pool for various reasons.  Companies do the same thing all the time.  The idea of these rules and laws is not to ensure that every qualified person has a shot at the job - the idea is to ensure that every person in the job is qualified.  These aren't "dubious concerns."

Where I worked as a lifeguard, it was fairly common for someone who had a summer birthday to apply before they were 15, and then be hired upon turning 15 when they could legally be hired.  Was there something wrong with them in June when they were 14 years and 11 months that got cured in July?  No - the law existed to protect the unready.  Likewise why should the NFL be a villain for restricting entry to a point where we can be reasonably sure everyone who applies is capable of handling the job?  The fact that some qualified people are barred from work somewhere has never been a concern, because society has decided (reasonably so) that it's better to have some qualified people left out than to allow unqualified people to be hurt, taken advantage of, etc.


January 28th, 2014 at 4:46 PM ^

personally, i think the current deal student-athletes needs tinkering, not a wholesale overhaul.

unionization is the wrong concept for student-athlets. unionization provides bargaining power for individuals lacking any rights or protection at all. it doesn't fit the circumstances provided these kids, who voluntarily accept scholarships at schools of higher learning to promote the athletic/academic endeavors of the schools.

student-athletes don't have to attend school to get to their dreamjobs, but they go to learn the game under the best coaches. while being afforded access to valuable educations non-scholarship students pay hand over fist for, they additionally get valuable coaching, an invaluable stage to display their talents and establish their values, access to an invaluable alumni network, etc.

I think student-athletes get what they pay for when they go to college to play sports. so my issue isn't with respect to a lach of additional compensation, but with the lack of insurance in place by the school for the kids from year to year with respect to money left on the table to be there; and also the lack of any attempt to measure each particular athlete's "worth" so as to insure against injury. 

imho, there are 2 ways to solve the problem. the first is to professionalize the student-athletes, or at least some of them, by permitting pro teams to draft the kids while they remain in school. that way, the kids who are under contract are both compensated by a team and also protected by the pro league's CBA.  

the second way is to require a system of insurance each school would have to contribute to cover the money each kid leaves on the table to not make an immediate jump to the pros. my issue is with the potential for injury, and the lack of financial support the school's give to kids who risk injury every game. 


January 28th, 2014 at 11:10 AM ^

always strikes me how it does not seem like the players really think they are getting such a bad deal, at least the vast majority of them.  Free access to high level training and conditioning, thousands upon thousands of adoring fans, trips all over the country and some times the world that most people stay awake wishing they could take, and having the college experience while playing the game they love every day.  Yeah, that sounds like complete bullshit to me.  Have you seen how miserable Nick Stauskus has looked the last few weeks?  I don't understand how this kid can stand this exploitation!! It must be insufferable!

The initial "demands" of this would be union seem reasonable.  Guaranteed scholarships in the event that a player cannot finish continue his career due to injury, etc., a trust fund in order to allow all athletes the ability to graduate if they can.  I think most people would assume these type of things already exist and certainly should.

However, players are not going to be paid and I see very little chance that this "union" is ever recognized.  The "student-athlete" mantra is a fallacy but it is one that must exist and remain or the entire institution will come down in a heap.   And there are too many important people invested in that not happening for that straw to break. 

I see very little chance of anything revolutionary coming from this.


January 28th, 2014 at 11:18 AM ^

up close as a relative who had an amazing arm as a kid, got a scholly and Tommy John surgery at the same time, and is now really struggling. It has changed some of his parents' take on these things very, very fast. 


January 28th, 2014 at 11:55 AM ^

Which 'system' are you refering to?  Because in the case of the kid your refering to, I would say taking the scholly benefitted him tremendously.  Unless you're arguing that only the college system resulted in a ligament tear and Tommy John surgery.  Because if he took the minor league route, got injured, lost his mojo, then they would truely spit him out, and he would be left with a high school dipolma and few years of age.  At least taking the scholly he can get a free education if the baseball doesn't work out because of the injury.


January 28th, 2014 at 12:23 PM ^

Really?  I've seen the system do the opposite up close.  My sister got a free ride to ND, was stopped just short of growing pro, played overseas for a little bit and then came back home to an incredible amount of oppurtunities and open doors that many don't have all because of her 4 years as a student-athlete.  Fast forward 14 years later and my sister is doing disgustingly well for herself, and there's very few conversations that others have with her about her success that don't somehow come back to her years playing sports at Notre Dame.

So no, she didn't get any profit sharing money while there, nor was she guaranteed a professional career past her collegiate one, nor did she live in luxury her 4 years in South Bend, but she was able to use what she did learn and the connections she made to live a pretty good life.  Debiliating injuries aside, there's no point to bash the system of D-1 sports/scholarships just because a few bad apples are either horribly ungrateful for what they've gotten or are way too selfish.


January 28th, 2014 at 12:29 PM ^

Let's be realistic here; your sister was not in a revenue sport.

ND got their giganto UnderArmour contract solely on the backs of ND football.  The NBC TV contract is due to ND football.

Guestimate; ND football underwrites the rest of the AD.  Also guestimate; football has the most injuries, highest academic attrition rates, and lowest grad rates in the NDAD.

So to recap; the football players bring in all the revenue, have the highest risk of career ending injuries, have the highest academic attrition rates, and they should be happy being treated the same as all the other scholly athletes?



January 28th, 2014 at 12:55 PM ^

Firstly, women's basketball at ND is most certainly a revenue sport (nowhere near football of course, but what sport really is).  Very few university's programs outside of men's basketball or football could come anywhere near to what ND is pulling in in that sport.  

Secondly, you bring up what will be a huge issue if college athletes started getting any sort of profit sharing or an allowance: is it really a fair system to reward certain athletes over others?  I don't just mean women's bball players vs. a football player, I also mean the starting QB vs. the guy who got a scholly but will probably never see the field more than a play or two in his career. 

Lastly, the point remains the exact same.  Non-football athletes still have to learn to find a balance between their sport, their education and their life.  Just because they don't play football, doesn't mean they didn't make as large of commitment of their life to that sport.  These student athletes are given a hell of an oppurtunity for that sacrifice, even though their bank account during those 4 years may not reflect that.  The sport that you're playing doesn't change that fact at all.  If you can't make the most of a free ride/education, that's your damn problem and your shortcoming, not the university's, not the NCAA's and not EA Sports'.


January 28th, 2014 at 1:33 PM ^

 First I'd like to say that being a revenue sport means it is self sustaining and makes a profit for the University. Womens basketball is in no way a revenue sport for ANY college. Ir barely makes a profit at the Pro level.

 It could be a revenue sport some day, a few people follow it but, right now costs the schools money to run womens basketball.…




January 28th, 2014 at 1:39 PM ^

There is a finite amount of money.  It may be a huge amount, but it's finite.  It must come from somewhere.  So far, this much is indisputable. 

There are three major expenses for an athletic department: players, facilities, and coaches.

Unless a coaching salary cap is put into place (which I wouldn't really be against) then it's probably not going to come from there.  A strong case can be made that Notre Dame wouldn't have anywhere near as much money in the long term if they hired putz coaches from Bumfuck State because they cheaped out on coaching salaries.

So if more money is going to flow to football players, it must come from either facility expenses or other players.  Facilities are part of the draw.  They are built for the players.  They attract players.  I don't hear too many players complaining that their facilities are too plush.  They love that stuff.

Therefore, logically, barring NCAA caps on spending on the other two, it will come from other players.  It always does when Title IX is involved, so there's every reason to expect it will when football players start soaking up more cash.  And I don't especially like the idea of an NCAA where opportunities for swimmers, wrestlers, tennis players, baseball players, hockey players, volleyball players, runners, etc. etc. .... are suddenly cut in half because the football guys wanted more money.

Blue Mike

January 28th, 2014 at 2:10 PM ^

Actually, the money for the players will come from another source: the fans.  The universities aren't going to look at their revenue streams and absorb the added costs, even if it is by squeezing money from other sports.  They are going to raise ticket prices, raise merchandise prices, demand higher rights fees from networks for their broadcasts, etc.  Just like when any business in America sees its costs go up.  They don't downsize the workforce first; they raise prices.  When revenues stop because people no longer can/choose to afford their product, then they downsize.


January 28th, 2014 at 3:16 PM ^

Well, this is true.  This is still a finite source of money, though.  One which is already being stretched near its breaking point, in fact - many schools these days are having trouble filling their stadiums, partly because the TV experience is so much better than it was 10 years ago.

Given your point, I would also want to smack anyone who simultaneously demands more money for the players and complains about ticket prices.  Here at MGoBlog the general feeling is much less favorable to boosting compensation to players than among the masses, so I suspect this would be more common than might be thought.


January 28th, 2014 at 11:18 AM ^

Sure, Nick is having fun... but how ready are you for him to be 2-and-done? Record numbers of underclassmen are declaring for pro drafts, maybe because they're unfairly compensated currently?

The pro leagues have unions that collectively bargain for player rights/salaries/etc. The NCAA athletes have... the NCAA? to tell them "enjoy your scholarship, oh, but don't make any money off your likeness or jersey, or anything else we can make money on". And ignore the fact that the NCAA makes tons of cash for suits who sit in offices to make sure that you don't make any money.


January 28th, 2014 at 11:44 AM ^

you think paying college players would rectify this problem?  Could Michigan get into salary negotiations with a potential NBA destination to "keep" him one more year by matching like he is a free agent?  Paying players would result in one thing, players wanting to be paid more.  Where do you go then?  I think you can viably argue exploitation (I think it is a losing argument but it holds together).  But please don't tell me thay paying players is going to improve college athletics for the fans.  It will destroy it.  If you want to support the notion of paying college players be ready for the college games you know and love to be gone, entirely, in the form that you know them.


January 28th, 2014 at 11:56 AM ^

Players are 100% already paid. You said it yourself:


Free access to high level training and conditioning, thousands upon thousands of adoring fans, trips all over the country and some times the world that most people stay awake wishing they could take, and having the college experience while playing the game they love every day


The argument is that players aren't paid enough. It's a measure of degrees. When college sports were making a bit of money, coaches were paid like professors, and ADs had to sell bonds to build a stadium that was all well and good. Now, with TV money, schools are in arms races (see Bama's waterfall vs. Oregon's death star) to spend all of this new money on everything except giving a cut to the student athlete. This isn't about improving college athletics for the fans, it's about improving athletics for the athletes. If Mitch McGary were going to get 4-5 years of tuition no matter how long he played, would that make him less of a Michigan Man? by coming back to school he gave up potentially millions in income. By making Michigan a bigger TV draw he made lots of extra money for everyone but himself.

Who again does it hurt if a football player models for Bivouac on the side? Or if JDK&Rey want to drop an album, can they charge money? College Athletics already has a salary cap: 1 scholarship and give up all your rights to your likeness.

I don't blame athletes for wanting to change that.

snarling wolverine

January 28th, 2014 at 12:15 PM ^

Allowing players to market their own likeness (as opposed to having universities pay them a straight-up salary) might be more workable from a financial standpoint.  But I think there would be an outcry from a competitive-balance standpoint.  Smaller schools (and schools not located in large media markets) would cry foul because their players wouldn't have as many opportunities.   You'd also have the issue of sleazy boosters paying big sums to athletes in return for bogus "endorsement" opportunities.  I don't think it would get enough votes to pass.

In any event, the number of college athletes who are truly highly marketable media personalities and could get rich off endorsements is tiny.  Even for professional athletes, very few actually have significant off-field income.  

I don't think most players hate their college experience.  They don't go pro so much because they want to "stick it to the man" but because it's just too lucrative an opportunity to pass up.  The NFL has changed its rules to be more like the NBA, where your first contract isn't as rich as subsequent ones can be, which explains the record numbers of underclassmen going.  The NFL/NBA are always going to have more money to pay players than colleges are - changing the NCAA rules won't alter that fact.





January 28th, 2014 at 12:16 PM ^

do you have to pay a kid to compete with $10,000,000 per year.  At what point will the kid be like "you know what, I am good, I can wait it out."  $10,000 per year, $20,000 per year, $50,000 per year?  What is that magic number.  Do you want a brand new Bentley any less if you are  driving a 2004 Honda Civic instead of a 1999 Honda Civic? 

The prospect of millions of dollars in their pocket is why players leave school for the pros, and no stipend can or will compete with those millions of dollars. 



January 28th, 2014 at 12:20 PM ^

Personally I'd never buy a Bentley (Porsche fan), but for some kids I don't doubt that it wil change the math as to whether or not they leave early. If you make an NFL practice squad that's only $6,000 per week, or a max of $96,000. If you're a borderline player, do you stay your senior year? Get your degree, have room and board, and throw in an extra $10,000 - that could change the math significantly.

So, is your argument now "we can't pay the kids enough, so don't pay them anything!!"? or... what?


January 28th, 2014 at 12:38 PM ^

It is one part that, one part that players already receive "compensation," one part that paying players creates many more problems than it solves, and one part that players do not have to play college ball if they don't want to.  As much as some people want to make this into involuntary servitude to stoke a controversy that idea of college athletics is quite simply, fiction.  Nobody puts a gun to their head.