Northwestern union case begins to unfold in Chicago


The first — and most important — test for Northwestern players attempting to unionize the football program began to unfold Tuesday, when a hearing commenced before the National Labor Relations Board’s regional office in Chicago.

The question, which will determine whether an effort to form a union may proceed, is whether the players fall within the definition of “employees.”

It truly is a job,” former Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter said during his testimony, via the Chicago Tribune.  “There is no way around it.”

Cain explained that his work includes hours of practice and preparation for games.  “[T]he guys on the other side of the ball want to rip your head off,” Colter said.  “The plays are changing every week.  It’s like war.

“I like to think of it like the military/Navy SEALs.  They spend months and weeks preparing for operations.  It’s the same thing as football.  We spend months getting ready for our operations.”

As  explained by the New York Times, Colter arrived at Northwestern intent on becoming an orthopedic surgeon.  He testified that he was steered away from a chemistry class before his freshman year, toward less rigorous studies.  He is now pursuing a psychology degree.

That training in psychology may have helped Colter during cross examination from a Northwestern lawyer.  After explaining that he receives roughly $75,000 per year in compensation for his efforts, Colter was asked if he received a check from the school paying for his tuition.

“The university pays itself,” Colter replied.

Which leads to another troubling point, from the perspective of the schools.  The actual education the player receives doesn’t actually cost the school anything; it’s just another student added to class.  If anything, the other students who pay full or partial tuition are subsidizing the folks on scholarship, since the school isn’t actually writing a check for the player’s attendance.

That speaks directly to the question of whether the players are receiving fair value of the effort, the preparation, and the risk.  And whether they can truly get the full value of their education when required to devote so much time to the football program.

“It makes it hard for you to succeed,” Colter said. “You can’t ever reach your academic potential with the time demands.  You have to sacrifice, and we’re not allowed to sacrifice football.”

The hearing will continue through Friday, and the local NLRB office is expected to issue a ruling within a month.  The losing party will then inevitably appeal the decision to the full NLRB in Washington, and the situation surely is destined to land in the courts after that.

Regardless of how the sausage gets made, it’s about time that college football players realize they’re getting the short end of things — and it’s about time they started standing up and saying so.

Change is needed.  Change is coming.  As the Nobel laureate Tony Horton would say, “Change is good.”

41 responses to “Northwestern union case begins to unfold in Chicago

  1. $75,000 per year in compensation? Did he pay taxes on that? It would be rather interesting to see these kids get declared employees, only to have the IRS knocking on their doors.

  2. You get a free, top quality education that if you waste is your fault. You also get a stage to audition on that will make you a millionaire if you’re good enough. It’s win-win either way. People in any profession have to start at the bottom somewhere. I’d love to have their problems. It must be nice to be set for life because you can play a sport.

  3. Start giving college kids a lot of money? Yeah, that will turn out good haha. So they will actually be professional football players who also happen to get free college.

  4. “The actual education the player receives doesn’t actually cost the school anything; it’s just another student added to class. If anything, the other students who pay full or partial tuition are subsidizing the folks on scholarship, since the school isn’t actually writing a check for the player’s attendance.”

    This isn’t the case at all, especially at a private institution. Donors are funding these scholarships and supporting the student athletes.

  5. This is a really bad idea that will literally end football at many universities not named Alabama, Notre Dame, and Florida.

    Here’s a thought. I’d be OK with paying college players getting $25K to play as long as they weren’t getting full scholarships as well. How can we all be forgetting that all division one college football players are not paying a cent for the opportunity to get a free college education.

  6. These players do have the option of declining the football scholarship and pay their own way like everyone else. Don’t forget that the world class health care the college provides isn’t free, nor is the housing, etc.

    Some of the kids in the Div I programs can barely read and write. That’s the real tragedy. You can see it when some of the pro players talk in interviews and sound like a homeless guy off the street.

    I do think that football players should be held to the same academic standards as everyone else but if he’s worried about the wear and tear on his body he can skip college football and see if a pro football team will sign him once he is 3 years out of highshool.

  7. I bet future employers are lining up to bring this guy on staff! I guess he can work for the unions groups. Doubt he’ll get paid $75,000 -100,000 a year for his first year on the job though.

  8. These college players are making a huge mistake. If they get the go ahead to unionize, many schools will drop the football programs and only the big name schools will have football. No more free education, housing and meals. No more finds of stars from small programs. It’ll be a real mess when colleges try to get a return on investment. A lot of kids will end up out of luck when these free rides end.

    The question then will be whether or not the college athlete will be able to play football without being enrolled in classes at the college.

    Slippery slope for the game of football.

  9. When I was in Grad School, Illinois actually looked at taxing the tuition waivers granted to Grad Students as income. It didn’t pass, as the University showed no actual money was budgeted or passed hands. It was a waiver, not compensation. I thin NU players have a good case — they provide an extremely valuable product to the University and get little fair market value in return.

  10. I agree give the players a annual salary! Don’t unionize them as they are seasonal employees, HOWEVER, let’s now make them pay for their education so they can make it mean something, as well as, give the scholarships to the kids with average to good marks who struggle to make ends meet and are working two jobs like I did when I went to college!!!!

    Also just my two cents…..dui’s, gun charges, rape, PE substance abuse will go up, so maybe we take a look at this as well before offering them annual salaries!

    College kids with money to create havoc doesn’t bode well for anybody!!!!

  11. I think I saw an article about minor-league baseball players suing MLB, because they were not receiving compensation equivalent to minimum wage standards. If MLB can’t pat their minor-league players, minor-league football has no chance.

  12. People hear “unionize” and think ‘want to be paid’, thats the problem. They aren’t trying to get paid by their colleges, they want medical and legal coverage-not alot to ask for really considering how much money they make for their schools

  13. Don’t forget, too, that there will be no difference, in the eyes of the law, in the student/athletes that play football and ones that are on the equestrian team. Once every single varsity athlete is getting paid (the same amount), they may end up worse off than they are now. The opportunities will simply disappear. Sprinkle in Title IX, and what you will see is two men’s varsity sports (football and basketball) and just enough women’s sports to equal out the scholarships.

    As a previous commenter said, this will cripple athletic departments that are not part of the fiscal elite.

    It is too bad these young men were forced, against their will, to play major college football.

    And when will athletes learn to stop comparing themselves to our soldiers that are fighting wars?

  14. Go ‘head Big Ten! It is a slippery slope, but the reason it got this far is because colleges were so intent on giving even a little. Maybe if they gave a little before it wouldn’t be nearing a point where the entire sham gets exploded before their very eyes. “The university payes itself.” That statement had a profound punch to the gut of the system. I encourage my nieces and nephews to play sports as a way to get a free education, even if they don’t go on to play professionally. You get the schools to pay so your parents don’t have to.

    Now, as these big schools rake in hundreds of millions of dollars (they have to if they can afford to give Nick Saban a $7.5M annual salary like it’s nothing) but the student receives no compensation whatsoever other than the same cost of education they have always gotten? Formern Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes probably never made $7.5 in his lifetime, and if he were alive and coaching today he would be making nearly that much or more. To quote my favorite movie, “His judgment cometh, and that right soon.” Time to pay the piper.

  15. He makes it sound like it is so hard. That it is so bad.

    He did have the choice to pay for college himself and not play football. He chose to play.

    There are many kids that play football, or any sport to get the scholarship. If scholarships disappear alot of these students won’t ever make it to college, then they won’t make it to the NFL.

    If you take out the stepping stone, how are they going to make the jump?

  16. So what about the band members on scholarship?

    Cain explained that his work includes hours of practice and preparation for games.

    Could the band not make that same claim?

  17. $75,000 isn’t compensation enough?! add the facilities that they are not charged a single penny to use. add the meals. add the travel and trips they are taken on. it add up to far more than $75,000.
    and it add up to more than the average college student is making. imo they are greatly compensated! take away the mountain of student loans i have to pay EVERY month and i will gladly be “taken advantage” of by a university any day!

  18. So are the kids at schools like Ohio St and USC going to be ok with the paycut they’ll have to take if we start paying college athletes above-board now?

  19. Slow down on comparing your kids game to war…. The guys on the other side of the field want to beat you and maybe some of them want to hurt you…. they aren’t trying to kill you.

  20. This situation is really starting to make a strong case for a pro-am ‘minor league’ for football.

    Scenario One: High school graduate goes to the ‘minor league’ instead of college-he has the ability to be seen, and can generate an income in the form of a salary.

    Scenario Two: High school student see’s the value of the education, along with the chance to be play pro one day. He forfeits a salary in order to gain an education in case he does not make it to the big league.

    Makes sense to me.

  21. If these kids want protection from oversigning, I agree with that. The SEC oversigning is terrible.

    For those who don’t know. These scholarships are technically for 1 year and they get renewed each year. Most schools hi or them for 4 years.

    Many SEC schools do not. They sign a bunch of 4 and 5 star recruits every year. They sign more kids than scholarships. How do they fix that? They take a kid who will be a Junior and isn’t a star and they pull his scholarship and give it to a new recruit.

    If Coltr wants protection from that, I’m fine with it. But if he wants pay, he should shut his mouth.

    Most students don’t get free education, team doctors, laundry done by the team, free shoes and gear, personal dining hall with real chefs and not a lunch lady with chicken nuggets.

    Most students don’t get hands on training from established leaders in their field. Imagine a business major who had 4 years working with Warren Buffet as a professor. That’s what happens when Nick Saban coaches you, or several other top coaches.

    Its his own fault he changed his major. I had an advisor steer me away from taking a certain class because I already had a packed semester. He warned me it would make for a tough semester. The decision was still mine.

  22. One way to fix it is this:

    Unionized players are not allowed to receive scholarships which will not allow them to receive the benefits associated with scholarships. This means unionized players would have to apply for, and be granted, student loans like the average Joe out there.

    Non union players can receive scholarships, and the advantages of said scholarship that exist today.

  23. I guess no one has asked him to make a choice. He truly is choosing to play ball while getting a free education. I get all the spins that it doesn’t cost the university and the others pay for it and they are valid arguments.

    But at the end of this, he is choosing to play ball and get an education at the same time. To me its free will. Many players I knew got good grades. Yes some were communication majors, but some were engineering and business majors.

    His argument is that he has to make a sacrifice. So then please do so. Choose between playing (and really not moving on from NWU) or going to school.

    He wants the best of both worlds while giving the least effort.

    Our next generation folks! Gimmie gimmie gimmie.

    He’s probably lining himself up to be the next union boss so he can make money off the other kids so he doesn’t have to apply himself to anything past rhetoric and ridiculous statements of half truths for the rest of his life.

  24. College football is a billion dollar industry based off of free labor. They license video games, jerseys, t-shirts, hats, etc. Time to end this sham and force the NFL to pay for a true minor league.

  25. If the schools don’t want to pay the players, and do want to continue to reap the benefit of the many millions of dollars brought in each year by the players, then they should agree that scholarships are guaranteed for the time it takes for the athlete to graduate with a bachelors degree, or 6 years, whichever comes first. Add an extra 10 scholarships to the limits to cover the players who are in school, but have completed their playing eligibility. Not only would this answer the players objections about spending too much time on football, rather than studies, it would ensure that the universities actually cared whether their athletes were making progress toward their degrees. Maybe, the term “student athlete” would not be such an oxymoron.

  26. “I like to think of it like the military/Navy SEALs. They spend months and weeks preparing for operations. It’s the same thing as football. We spend months getting ready for our operations.”

    Ok there buddy, calm down!!!! Nothing to see here! The last time I was downrange in Afghanistan (2009), I don’t ever remember thinking to myself as we dodged IED’s and small arms fire/ mortar attacks that “geez, this is just like playing football at Northwestern!”

    He’s been playing too much Call of Duty!!! I got news for ya there……playing football is nothing like war!!! Trust me, not even close! What an assclown to make such a statement!

  27. Once the football programs become the primary reason for attendance (monetarily speaking) then the value of the education diminishes. Once you start paying students to play football, then you have to pay them to play other sports, then the tuitions (paid by the regular Joes) go through the roof. Scary bad proposition all together.

    Now boosters will have their hay-days.

  28. The status quo is a great deal for most scholarship college athletes and the potential fallout from unionization and wages could be staggering. Assume that the process plays out, the players are certified and demand fair compensation. Will each school form its own union? eacg sport? How is fair compensation established? Full on free agency with the open market deciding? Do starters make as much as the 80th guy on the bench? Will universities decide that it’s too expensive to pay for a football program and all of its other programs that are often subsidized by football? Will the college football system collapse in favor of a minor league system for the NFL where most athletes never have a real shot at a professional career and will be forgoing a free college education while the.NFL minor league fills out its roster? It sounds like a tremendous mess with little upside except, possibly, the most upper echelon players. Sometimes change is not good.

  29. A full ride scholarship to Northwestern has to be worth $200,000. He is getting paid if you look at it that way. I really don’t feel too sorry for these guys.

  30. Let’s admit one thing the scholarship vs. pay for play debate is a class war.

    The scholarship-only proponents are middle or upper class people who are apathetic and inconsiderate to poor people.

    What’s wrong if poor families became less poor sooner?

    There’s nothing wrong with it.

    It’s beautiful when a mother cries when a son gets her a gift that she herself couldn’t afford.

    At the same time why are these scholarship-only proponents not more considerate to poor and single moms that have to work two or three jobs.

    Sounds like the more well off are more spoiled than these athletes could be with pay.

  31. Did you really just compare football, COLLEGE football to the most elite military unit in the world-the Navy SEALs? I would have to discount anything you said after that because that is ridiculous. Football is not like the military. He should be embarrassed that he made such an asinine statement.

  32. $75,000 for one year? It would be one thing if the degree was in Pre-Med, Engineering, or some other highly regarded field. Is it really worth $75,000 to get a degree in Public Speaking, which is what many of the athletes major in. Why not just claim he’s getting $1,000,000,000 every year, after all it’s just Northwestern paying Northwestern.

    If the scholarship was worth as much instead of actual paycheck, Harvard would win the national championship every year. Like anything else, value is determined by the buyer. The scholarship is only valuable if the recipient considers it valuable and is intelligent enough to make use of it. Most of the better players would rather have the $75,000 (or whatever number the college makes up) than a scholarship to a degree in basket weaving.

  33. Some of you are fools…yes they get a chance at pro sports…but Kain Colter is not going to, and now he can’t be a doctor.

    Not ALL players on scholarship are going to be drafted. Many of them will not be. And plenty will suffer injuries.

    Look at Marcus Lattimore…he made South Carolina millions upon millions of dollars…and now he’s making what? The NFL minimum because his knee was shredded to pieces in a game at SC. Sure he will make more of he stays healthy…but that is far from a guarantee, not to mention he will never get back the money he’s lost.

    These kids are dollar signs for schools, agents, corporate sponsors…they don’t make a fraction of the amount of money that is actually made OFF them! It’s bs.

    Come hell or high water…I hope to God this changes the landscape of NCAA sports.

    Also…being given a platform to audition for professional sports is hardly even close to reimbursement for what the player makes the school, conference and NCAA…they have already made more money off of Tyler Ennis at Syracuse, than he’ll ever make!

  34. They don’t make money for the schools by bringing their talents there.
    How may ppl heard of Flacco or Boyles before the mock drafts began? Yet we know everything about Manziel and Clowney.
    The difference, the schools they went to (Flacco of course switched from the bench of the name school to finish out at DE).
    As much as a top player helps a school win, it is just as much that a top name school gets a player noticed.
    Would Romo had gone undrafted if he wasn’t from a no name school? How would the draft prospects of the current N. Ill QB?
    As we sit here and question the quality of UCF’s schedule and how it should effect their QB’ draft prospect, we cannot turn around and say the player sees no benefit from where he plays.

    It’s not a matter of pay these kids who the schools are making tons of money off their talents. They instantly gain benefit from being given the opportunity to put on a big time programs uniform.

    And no matter what amount of money they end up paying the players. Within 2 years, if not immediately we will be told it is not enough, and the boosters will always cheat by giving them more. (how many players will turn down the golden handshake saying “We are being paid now, I don’t need your 2k on top of that?”

  35. they have already made more money off of Tyler Ennis at Syracuse, than he’ll ever make.

    The sbove is not true…..

    But if Tyler Ennis did what he has done at Elon or UC Santa Barbara you wouldn’t know his name.

    For instance…. Can you name any Wichita State players?

  36. What comes next? Will a star high school player be entitled to pay once he turns 18 because he is drawing more people through the gates? Being given a scholarship and a platform to display their talents is not enough? Try sending your high school video to the NFL and see who will draft you and then we will see how quickly everyone on board with this shuts up. No one can seem to be happy, there is always someone to whine and the media jumps on board to sensationalize it.

  37. I think a lot of people here just don’t understand basic economics.

    To say that something is a billion dollar industry proves nothing. You can have a billion dollar industry without making a bit of profit.

    Now, I am not saying that some schools don’t make a profit with college football. Many do. Where does that money go? After all, these are mostly public institutions, and the ones that are not are mostly not-for-profit organizations. That money mostly goes back into the athletics programs, while some of it goes into the school’s general fund. Either way, it is money that is going to support other collegians.

    And if these programs are bathing in money, as many here would suggest, why do they go out and take in tens of millions from alumni donors every year? Where does that money go?

    If you think that all football profits should be given to the players, then you will see the collapse of the rest of the athletics program. Outside of men’s basketball a few women’s hoops programs, other sports are ALL money losers. Should those just go away? If so, how do you keep football AND deal with Title IX regulations?

    Every penny that a judge or a union decides needs to go into the pockets of the students has to be taken from other students, whether it be the removal of their sports program, or out of their pockets via tuition.

    Oh, I know, we’ll just get taxpayers to fund it!

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