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Thursday, February 20, 2014
Northwestern players' case needs boost

By Adam Rittenberg

The College Athletes Players Association chose former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter as the face of its movement to push for a historic union in college football.

Colter is a sharp, eloquent and compelling spokesman. But is he enough? It doesn't appear so. The officer overseeing a National Labor Relations Board hearing that will determine if the Northwestern players can unionize on Thursday described the players' case so far as "weak."

Kain Colter
The College Athletes Players Association will need more than former Northwestern QB Kain Colter to make a union push.
"The record is weak on the players' side," hearing officer Joyce Hofstra said. "We have a case before us where the petitioner is asking the [board] to make a decision on employee status, and we've only had one player on the stand. We have heard nothing on the relationship between the player and the coach. I'm hoping at some point that we have that."

Colter testified Tuesday as CAPA's first witness and made some strong claims against Northwestern's football program in an effort to show that playing football is a job and he and other players are employees of the school. But no other players have testified, and CAPA rested its case Wednesday.

CAPA president Ramogi Huma told ESPN's "Outside the Lines" that a majority of Northwestern players signed the petition to unionize. Although safety Ibraheim Campbell attended the hearing Wednesday, Colter has been the only one to speak publicly.

John Adam, an attorney representing CAPA, said Thursday that Colter's testimony is sufficient.

The university is presenting its case and, as of earlier today, had three more witnesses to call. Will football coach Pat Fitzgerald be one of them?

If so, expect Fitzgerald to reiterate that he's proud of Colter and the other players for pushing for changes that can help student-athletes, although unionizing isn't the best approach. There are some holes in Colter's testimony that Fitzgerald could expose, but he will never rip Colter publicly or privately.

Although Colter made some valid points in his testimony, his spin on several topics, like morning practices, academic advising, coaches approving players' apartment leases and the school's responsibility for his recent ankle surgery raised some red flags. He went after the Northwestern program head on, which came as a surprise to many.

There were some awkward scenes, like a university lawyer and Colter debating Colter's academic credentials (university tried to build them up, Colter tried to tear them down).

Ultimately, Colter might not be enough to further the union push, but it's not over yet.