Northwestern football players looking to unionize

Northwestern was recently the focus of college football’s biggest story. Weird, right?

Quarterback Kain Colter and many of his teammates are taking the first steps in an attempt to unionize by petitioning the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, to be considered employees of the University. 

Colter seems to be one of the masterminds of this enterprise. As early as last spring, the Denver native reached out to the National College Players Association in hopes that they would sympathize with the athletes’ desires to change the way players are treated under the NCAA.

Student-athletes put in 40-hour work weeks just like a full-time job, but without compensation. And although neither Northwestern’s football team nor the NCPA directly addresses the pay-for-play debate, it’s what is on everyone’s mind when issues like this are brought to national attention.

And it probably scares the NCAA half to death.

Is this attempt to unionize college athletes the first step in pushing the NCAA to pay its athletes?

This matter is bigger than Northwestern. The players are adamant about the fact that their efforts reflect a larger, national desire for better healthcare, multiyear scholarships and fair representation.

“We’re interested in trying to help all players — at USC, Stanford, Oklahoma State, everywhere. It’s about protecting them and future generations to come.” Colter said in a statement to ESPN’s Outside the Lines. 

“The NCAA is like a dictatorship. No one represents us in negotiations. The only way things are going to change is if players have a union.”

It’s not surprising that this type of proposal is coming out of one of the nation’s top academic universities.

If any school has football players smart enough to spearhead this type of movement, it’s Northwestern. The students are the brainiacs of the Big Ten and apparently the champions of the modern student-athlete.

But is this what’s best for college sports?

The College Athletes Players Association, the entity that would represent student-athletes should Colter’s petition be approved, is best suited to focus on football and men’s basketball because they produce the most revenue. 

But giving these rights to one group of athletes and not another, namely women and “smaller sports,” will spark disagreements galore.

Although advocating for these rights is important if the main goal is compensation, the issue won’t rest until all sports of both genders are equally represented, and rightfully so.

I get that football and basketball players make the most money for their schools and for their governing bodies, but that doesn’t mean they put in more effort and time than the men’s golf team or women’s gymnastics.

Many are speculating that this case could end up in the federal courts.

I think the more attention Colter gets, the more athletes will jump on the bandwagon.

If student-athletes are ruled to be employees, they ask for more. If not, enough press will have been garnered to force real, serious conversation about the relationship between the NCAA and its athletes.

And although the NCAA is not directly involved the NLRB hearings, you can bet they’ll be keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings.

On game days last fall, Colter, and those who support him, wore wristbands bearing the letters APU, for All Players United. 

This minor show of rebellion is representative of the way Colter has handled these negotiations; publicly, politely and with certain poise that is often hard to find in an industry so taken with the cult of celebrity.

Aryn is a senior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @arynbraun.