Northwestern football has been in the news lately, and it's not because of lofty expectations for next year or a dashing transfer, or a tragic Pat Fitzgerald fist pump injury, or because the football team is no longer training with Navy SEALs and instead is being chased around downtown Evanston by graduate assistants dressed like mummies. Kain Colter has taken the case for the unionization of Northwestern football players to the National Labor Relations Board. They have won the ruling. Northwestern athletes may have fired a salvo into the NCAA's confusing "student-athlete" designation.
It is somewhat surreal seeing Kain Colter's face all over sports websites. We knew Colter's versatility allowed him to play quarterback, wide receiver, running back, backup quarterback, long snapper, dropkick specialist, wedge-buster, graduate assistant, sports information director, and United States Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs during his illustrious football career. Now, he has become the face of the national debate about big money college athletics. Northwestern is currently at the epicenter of the college football universe.
What does this all mean?
Disclaimer: BYCTOM could not be more qualified to discuss this issue. Its team of analysts and legal researchers are experts affiliated with the Hollywood Upstairs Institute of Internet Football Law, and all readers are encouraged to use the analysis contained herein to make internet arguments and crucial decisions about their families' financial future.
BYCTOM specializes in Internet Football Law, mustache injury, leech
malpractice, bear-baiting law, treason against fictional nations, treason in
the name of fictional nations, railroad vengeance, and Canadian constitutional
crises involving the Governor-General
WHAT IS AT THE HEART OF THE CASE
The case centers on the NCAA's designation of student-athletes. The NCAA clings to the idea that football players are college students who study, hang out on the quad, and occasionally go out and get run over by 280 pound behemoths. NCAA officials argue that athletes are rewarded with scholarships (becoming more valuable as the cost of tuition skyrockets) and other amenities. It's as if you and me and some other fellows were walking around in our Northwestern varsity jackets and saw some other fellows wearing Illini orange and said perhaps we should participate in a sporting contest for the honor of the ol' alma mater, what say you chaps and then played a football match in a local field surrounded by tens of thousands of well-wishers and a staggering number of people on TV and were also screamed at by crew-cutted millionaires in khaki slacks.
With all of this money floating around, the NCAA has to keep its eyes open to attempts to stain the purity of the sport. Therefore, the organization has a byzantine rulebook governing the relationship between athletes and potential corrupting influences such as coaches, boosters, and the roguish Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg. This is particularly intricate during recruiting, when high school football stars are vulnerable to all kinds of creative inducement from outright bribery to patronage to the threat of having to sit into a room with Nick Saban for hours. More recently, potential recruits can also be yelled at by assorted yahoos on social media who are incensed that they discarded their team's hat in an overly cavalier manner. Recruiting is an absurd tug of war between NCAA attempts to regulate contact with recruits as programs and boosters find ways to circumvent and ignore these rules. This is good news for those of us who are disappointed that the twenty-first century is devoid of the type of intrigue and betrayal you'd find in medieval betrothal politics, where a coach might try to cement his interest in a player by recruiting a less talented friend or hiring a high school coach or destabilizing the Principality of Grubenslagen and installing a puppet ruler who coincidentally looks exactly like the Prince.
You, happy Austria, recruit a fullback
The Northwestern players argue that they are actually employees of the school as a crucial part of a multi-million dollar sporting enterprise that depends on them to run. They claim that football demands hours of practice and preparation that have more in common with a full-time job than a part-time sport. They want to be able to collectively bargain with the university.
NORTHWESTERN IS SORT OF A WEIRD FLASHPOINT FOR ALL OF THIS
In many ways, Northwestern is about as close as it gets to the NCAA's model for a college football program in a major conference. Northwestern players are held to higher academic standards than most other FBS schools. Nearly all of them graduate. Scholarships are worth more because of Northwestern's soaring tuition rates. This is not a football factory, and for many years, it was unable to determine whether the Wildcats' football stadium was an elaborate art installation about futility led by unusually large performance artists.
Yet, the Northwestern unionization effort demonstrates that the pressures of football fall upon all players equally. Northwestern emphasizes its academics and graduation rate as part of its overall football brand, as integral to the identity of Northwestern football as other aspects such as empty, tarp-riddled stands and dubious claims to loyalty of indifferent Chicagoland sports fans. Colter, on the other hand, testified that he was discouraged from taking classes that conflicted with practices during the season and reinforced the tremendous time commitments demanded by football. I can identify with those pressures as a college student since I also had hours away from my studies dedicated to day games at Wrigley Field, leading the virtual Chicago Bears to numerous Madden NFL championships, and watching reruns of the Highlander television show where the Highlander lived on a houseboat, wielded a katana, and Roger Daltrey had a mustache.
Television Highlander Adrian Paul contemplates past head
choppings and head choppings to come
WHAT DOES THE RULING MEAN
The ruling means that the National Labor Relations Board agrees that scholarship football players (but not walk-ons) are university employees and can vote to join the College Athletes Players Association. If formed, this union can collectively bargain with the university. The players are not immediately seeking direct payment, but the creation of a trust fund for athletes, guaranteed medical care for current and former players, and more control over transfers to other schools. The ruling currently applies only to private universities.
Northwestern is appealing the decision to the NLRB in Washington. NCAA President Mark Emmert claims the case will ultimately end up in the Supreme Court. Regardless of outcome, the ruling has greatly upset the NCAA apple cart and dealt another blow to the bizarre marriage of universities to billion-dollar sporting concerns. It seems clear that, in the near future, the model of college athletics will have to adjust in order to compensate athletes in big revenue sports or change into something else altogether.
What type of action could players use as leverage? Should the CAPA form, how far would they and their representatives push for compensation? Could there be a strike?
A BRIEF SUMMARY OF "THE PICKET LINEMEN," A TERRIBLE HYPOTHETICAL COLLEGE FOOTBALL STRIKE MOVIE WRITTEN BY MARK EMMERT
In the year 2020, the United States Supreme Court has made it legal for college football teams to unionize. Players demand payment in money, flashy cars, and gilded pantaloons while burning textbooks on their stadiums' 50 yard lines. The American people are outraged, but helpless in the face of this reign of terror because of the government.
Lance Stryker, the President of College Football looks on with consternation. He expects a delegation from the College Football Union to bring their list of extravagant demands. Stryker's secretary tells them to have a seat, but they march past her and burst into Stryker's office. The head of the union, Trench Bludgeoner, wears a fancy suit, carries a gold-tipped cane, and polishes a monocle that was surely and inappropriately given to him by a booster. His right-hand man is a tough guy named Bill Flint played by Steven Seagal who waddles into the office and regards all parties menacingly. Bludegeoner removes a list of College Football's concessions to the players that includes a reasonable stipend and a free education from a stainless steel briefcase and burns them on Stryker's desk. The players' demands include payment in canvas sacks with dollar signs on them. "I don't know if they even make these sacks," Stryker says. "Then make them yourself," sneers Bludgeoner. "We're on strike." Bludgeoner leaves the office, flourishing his cape.
Flint leans into Stryker. "Don't even try to break this strike," he says in a growling half-whisper. "Or I'll break your organization, your fancy desk, and your bones." Actually he has to write that last part down on a whiteboard because his whisper has gotten too quiet by the end of his threat, and while he's at it, he draws a quick caricature of his own scowling face to let Stryker know he means business. On his way out, he headbutts two College Football officials in the lobby.
The strike is disastrous. Stadiums sit empty. Mascots desperately prowl campuses, accosting unsuspecting students with antics. A trombone plays, sadly. Soon, stadiums become the sites of violence as fans demand football action. In Wisconsin, a riot leaves thousands of bratwursts trampled. Stryker remains resolute, but the government gets involved and forces College Football to pay the players. Within a week, a fleet of trucks with billions of dollars in gold and canvas sacks stands at the ready to distribute.
But then Stryker realizes that Bludgeoner, Flint, and the union are not going to distribute the money to the players after all. He enlists the Head of University Computers to dig into the records and enhance a lot of photos. They discover that Trench Bludgeoner is not a college football player at all. He's the head of The Organization, an international outfit responsible for 75% of the world's heinous crimes involving transporting counterfeit money hidden in illegal guns made out of narcotics on illegal whaling vessels. This information is shown on a pie chart. Also, Bludgeoner has secretly been behind every recruiting infraction for the past twenty years, someone that Stryker has known only from the monogrammed handkerchief he leaves at hat ceremonies as his calling card to let Stryker know that he has successfully corrupted a players' recruitment. Stryker is infuriated and punches through a plate glass window while shouting in slow motion. We see a montage of him putting on tactical suspenders, holstering a stapler, and swapping his reading glasses for bifocals. This is one violation that can't be self-reported.
Stryker knows he is the only person who can stop Bludgeoner from stealing College Football's gold and using it to invest in an unprecedented criminal infrastructure. He takes out the lead truck driver and leads the fleet into an abandoned factory. But Flint is waiting for him, and attacks with dozens of slow-moving aikdo maneuvers. Flint is about to strike the killing blow on a bloodied Stryker when Purdue Pete drives a train into his chest. Bludgeoner escapes, but without the money. College football resumes with a lucrative post-season tournament. But after the credits roll, Stryker turns on the news to see that youth soccer players are attempting to organize in Peru. He tightens his suspenders, grabs his briefcase, and looks directly into the camera with steely determination.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR NORTHWESTERN FOOTBALL
The possibility of union action has left a rift between the university and the players. Pat Fitzgerald testified on behalf of Northwestern.
The hearings have been hell on Fitzgerald, who is forced to spend time in a
buttoned-down hearing where fist pumps are discouraged, steering gestures
questioned, and all manner of butt bumps banned
Meanwhile, spring football looms as players prepare for the upcoming season. The 'Cats are already trying to rebound from a disastrous season where preseason hype for a possible LEGENDS DIVISION title fell apart in a series of unfathomable last-second defeats. We have no way of knowing how the unionization battle will affect the Wildcats on the field,but it may somehow stand in the way of Northwestern winning a BCS championship.