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updated: 1/28/2014 7:23 PM

NU players organize to shine light on broken system

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  • Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter is a spokesman for a proposed labor union that would like to represent college football players in their dealings with the NCAA.

      Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter is a spokesman for a proposed labor union that would like to represent college football players in their dealings with the NCAA.
    Associated Press

  • Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter is a spokesman for a proposed labor union that would like to represent college football players in their dealings with the NCAA.

      Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter is a spokesman for a proposed labor union that would like to represent college football players in their dealings with the NCAA.
    Associated Press

  • Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter speaks at a news conference Tuesday in Chicago. Calling the NCAA a "dictatorship," a handful of Northwestern football players announced they are forming the first labor union for college athletes -- one they hope will eventually represent players nationwide.

      Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter speaks at a news conference Tuesday in Chicago. Calling the NCAA a "dictatorship," a handful of Northwestern football players announced they are forming the first labor union for college athletes -- one they hope will eventually represent players nationwide.
    Associated Press

 
 

Former Northwestern quarterback/wide receiver Kain Colter called Tuesday a historic day -- and so it was.

Wildcats football players joined a movement to have a union represent them in order to influence what their working conditions will be.

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See, NU, what can happen when a university actually educates athletes? They're liable to bite the hand that taught them.

Hurrah for both teacher and pupil!

Players submitted a formal petition to the National Labor Relations Board asking that they be recognized as employees. The NCAA immediately countered that student-athletes are not employees.

Stay tuned.

Regardless of whether the players' action results in collective bargaining, it will shine a light on a system that is broken.

This reportedly isn't about college-football players receiving money for their services. That's good. College athletes shouldn't be paid in dollars. A scholarship should be good enough and they should cherish the opportunity to earn a degree.

But it's easy to see why the don't as more and more is asked of them these days. The solution isn't to give them more, it's to work them less.

When major-college teams went from an 11-game regular-season schedule to 12 games I asked a Big Ten head coach whether that was fair to his players.

His response was that it's OK because they prefer games to practice.

Huh?

Coaches can convince themselves of anything if it benefits them. This one never mentioned that an extra game means extra practices, too, or whether he pointed that out to the players on his team.

But maybe the coach had a valid point. Maybe players would vote to play an additional game despite the physical pounding.

College football is a year-round sport now with spring ball and summer conditioning. No wonder players might begin to think the athletic side is more important than the academic side.

Most probably are willing to pay the price in exchange for running out of the tunnel to the roar of up to 100,000 fans on a beautiful autumn afternoon.

But that's where adults have to enter the equation. They have to look out for these young men, not manipulate them and exploit them.

Elders should be the ones who decide that enough is enough and that too much is too much. If they abuse the assignment, which they have for too long now, it's time for them to forfeit control.

The conflict of interest is that these same grown-ups also are responsible -- or irresponsible -- for winning games and filling stadiums and paying bills.

So if a so-called student-athlete has to play on a school night instead of the weekend, so be it. If he has to travel thousands of miles rather than hundreds of miles for a conference game, so be it. If the athletic side is overemphasized more than the academic side is emphasized, so be it.

In another business -- and sad to say college football is a business now -- the workforce would march on the CEO's home to protest. On campus maybe they should egg the school president's house.

It could be that football players haven't done that because they envision being somewhere else on a Tuesday afternoon in January: At a podium during media day at the Super Bowl.

An extra game, a few extra practices, a couple more months of lifting weights, well, it's easy for a coach to kid a kid into believing all that will get him to the NFL.

Meanwhile, however, the least that college-football players should be given is a say in the working conditions that impact their health and studies.

Unionizing is complicated and might not be the answer, but the current college-football model screams for an answer of some sort.

So ... Go 'Cats!

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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