Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald is one of the good guys in the game. He’s done a helluva job at his alma mater and is in the camp of those who try to do right by their players. Yet his testimony at yesterday’s NLRB hearing is a perfect example of the conflicted position schools take with their student-athletes.
… Fitzgerald echoed that sentiment. He said his credentials prove he puts academics first. Specifically, he cited a time last season when a player asked Fitzgerald to sit out of practice that week to catch up on school work. Fitzgerald obliged, and thus, that player was not prepared to play in the game that week against Nebraska and did not travel with the team.
That would support Northwestern’s argument that football players are students first and athletes second.
However, CAPA has said all along that it is not alleging any misconduct by Northwestern. Their point is that coaches are allowed to treat players unfairly if they want to, and the players have no representation. So even though Northwestern may not unjustly pull scholarships, other schools could, and CAPA isn’t planning to stop at Northwestern.
Essentially, they would argue, a football coach with the ability to pull compensation — the scholarship — is like a boss in an employee-employer relationship. And just because your boss is cool, that doesn’t mean he’s not your boss.
Fitzgerald told Barbour that he believes the student-athlete experience is all-encompassing — the athletic endeavors or an athlete are mixed with their academic and social endeavors. He said he believes in the ideal of the student-athlete, and that his players are not employees.
However, CAPA lawyer Gary Kohlman pointed out that in a Chicago Sun-Times article last year that Fitzgerald — who initially denied this sentiment — called being a student-athlete a “full-time job.” The question was related to increasing player stipends, which Fitzgerald supports. He clarified his stance after reading his quote.
“It’s a full-time job from a responsibility standpoint,” he said.
That’s the logic knot you tie yourself up in once you become an advocate for some form of payment to players. But that’s not all here. The problem for Fitzgerald is that once you get past the pay-for-play issue and focus on how much say players have over their working conditions, or, depending on your point of view, “the student-athlete experience” – regardless of the label, it’s basically none – it’s a tough sell.
Maybe that’s encompassed in preparing players for life.