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Tuesday, January 28, 2014
NCAA, Northwestern AD react to union idea

By Brian Bennett



The idea of a union for college football players, which is being spearheaded by Northwestern student-athletes, is one that is making major news throughout college sports -- and likely making administrators very nervous.

The NCAA has issued a response to the union proposal. Surprise: It is not a fan. Here's the full NCAA response, as penned by the organization's chief legal officer, Donald Remy:
"This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education. Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize.

"Many student athletes are provided scholarships and many other benefits for their participation. There is no employment relationship between the NCAA, its affiliated institutions or student-athletes.

"Student-athletes are not employees within any definition of the National Labor Relations Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act. We are confident the National Labor Relations Board will find in our favor, as there is no right to organize student-athletes."

Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips released his own statement this afternoon. Here it is:
"We love and are proud of our students. Northwestern teaches them to be leaders and independent thinkers who will make a positive impact on their communities, the nation and the world. Today’s action demonstrates that they are doing so.

"Northwestern University always has been, and continues to be, committed to the health, safety and academic success of all of its students, including its student-athletes. The concerns regarding the long-term health impacts of playing intercollegiate sports, providing academic support and opportunities for student-athletes are being discussed currently at the national level, and we agree that they should have a prominent voice in those discussions.

"We are pleased to note that the Northwestern students involved in this effort emphasized that they are not unhappy with the University, the football program or their treatment here, but are raising the concerns because of the importance of these issues nationally.

"Northwestern believes that our student-athletes are not employees and collective bargaining is therefore not the appropriate method to address these concerns. However, we agree that the health and academic issues being raised by our student-athletes and others are important ones that deserve further consideration."

Of course the NCAA is going to fight this idea tooth and nail because it would change the very nature of how college sports are governed and administrated. Northwestern is in a trickier spot because the school does not want to be viewed as being callous to its own students' desire for better treatment and health. Yet, a full blown union of football players and a designation of athletes as employees who can collectively bargain must scare the bejeezus out of any NCAA administrator.

It's clear that this story is really only beginning.