Category Archives: Look For The Union Label

“Once people saw what was really going on, it wasn’t going to take a union to change it.”

If you can get past whatever knee-jerk objections you have about players’ unions and read this piece on what happened at Northwestern, it’s worth your while to gain some understanding about what motivated the principals involved.  Here’s the part that most telling:

When announcing the union, Colter had tried to be clear that his beef was primarily with the NCAA, not with Northwestern. But only by taking on Northwestern could he take on the NCAA, which created a more ambiguous situation. Northwestern lawyer Anna Wermuth noted that Fitzgerald had created a Leadership Council to give players some voice in team rules. Colter countered by saying that Fitzgerald retained 51% of the power. “We get an input,” Colter said, “but at the end of the day he’s the boss man.”

Wermuth also brought up Colter’s ankle to illustrate how Northwestern took care of players after graduation. “So they did say they would reimburse you for the MRI?” Wermuth asked.

“After they denied me,” Colter interjected. “But I mean there shouldn’t be any gray area. I gave—I sacrificed my body for four years. They sold my jersey in the stores, and they should protect me as far as medical coverage.”

Underlying some of the criticism of Colter was the belief by the school and many of its alumni that Northwestern was the wrong place to highlight the pitfalls of college sports. In many ways that was true. It had a graduation rate of 97%, the highest in college football’s top division, and a history of providing some medical coverage even after an athlete’s playing days had ended. As soon as the NCAA allowed schools to guarantee four-year scholarships, Northwestern was one of the few to do so immediately. In truth, the university treated its players about as well as any school did—and as well as NCAA rules allowed. This was part of Northwestern’s defense. Colter’s concerns were NCAA issues, the school’s lawyers argued. Northwestern couldn’t distribute cost-of-attendance stipends, for example, without the association’s approval.

Northwestern called other players to testify, and each presented compelling evidence that the university valued schoolwork. But none refuted Colter’s accounting of the hours or the coaches’ control. Then came Fitzgerald. “We take great pride in developing our young men to be the best they possibly can be in everything that they choose to do—athletically, academically, socially,” he said. But Kohlman got him to concede that the players can spend 24 hours on football on a Friday and Saturday when they travel to away games. He acknowledged that he set team rules too. In an interview the year before, Fitzgerald had called being a student-athlete “a full-time job.”

There weren’t any truly bad people in this fight.  Northwestern was an exemplary actor within a system that wasn’t so exemplary.  And Colter had good reason to express concerns over things like working conditions and players’ insurance.

The problem was that a union vote at one school was a poor vehicle to use to address the specific objections Colter had.  Ironically, the move to unionize turned out to be more effective than it should have been, because the conferences and NCAA freaked out when the NLRB’s initial ruling in favor of the players was issued.

Sneer if you like, but it’s impossible to deny the changes we’ve seen from the schools and the NCAA in the wake of what happened at Northwestern and O’Bannon.

Weeks before the trial, the Pac-12 presidents published a 10-point reform plan that included full cost of attendance, lifetime education trusts and improved medical insurance for players. The Big Ten commissioner, Jim Delany, testified during the trial, and days later the conference’s presidents issued a similar open letter. South Carolina, Indiana and Southern Cal unilaterally announced that they would begin handing out four-year athletic scholarships. And the NCAA abandoned its longtime release form for the use of players’ names, images and likenesses. (Schools and conferences now issue the form.) For practically the first time in NCAA history, colleges were tripping over themselves to do better by their athletes.

That’s either a reaction or a remarkable coincidence.  Either way, it’s hard to blame the players for trying.


Filed under Look For The Union Label

Same old, same old

So the Age of Autonomy is upon us and big changes are afoot, right?  Um, they’ll have to get back to you on that.

Whereas a year ago the autonomy group enacted some landmark legislation that rippled through Div. I — highlighted by full cost of attendance stipends, guaranteed scholarships, and concussion protocols — the legislative package adopted by the Power Five this year was thoroughly non-controversial and rooted largely in NCAA minutia.

The biggest headline, in fact, was the resolution schools adopted to come up with a plan to address time demands on athletes — for next year’s convention.

“Last year I walked out of here feeling like we did something significant,” said Ty Darlington, one of the Big 12’s student representatives and the starting center on the football team. “This year I felt like we sort of relaxed.”

Better get used to that, Ty.

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said it “wasn’t a big deal” to table the proposal because there’s already an NCAA waiver process in place for athletes to address the issue if they wish.

It never is a big deal.  Unless it’s being litigated.

Here is the quintessential NCAA exchange:

Darlington, the Oklahoma football player, said it was unacceptable that the autonomy group couldn’t come up with a way to address the issue this year. He produced the most poignant moment of the entire session when he told the room he didn’t feel like it accomplished anything to significantly impact the student-athlete experience.

Oklahoma athletics director Joe Castiglione applauded the sentiment behind Darlington’s comments.

“His statements resonated with a lot of people, maybe the vast majority of people,” Castiglione said. “Hopefully that adds even more of a sense of urgency to getting these changes made. I  think people are very much engaged in the spirit and intent behind a number of these proposals, there were just a number of areas of the previous proposals that needed a little bit more work. In the long run, we will make a lot of progress, there’s no doubt about it and let’s be fair, there’s been a great deal of progress already made.”

In other words, trust ’em.  Hey, that’s worked out great so far, hasn’t it?


Filed under Look For The Union Label, The NCAA

Job? Who’s got time for a job?

Golly gee, sounds like your average everyday college student, doesn’t it?


Filed under Look For The Union Label

They’ll get right on it.

Look at the NCAA, all student-athleteish

Leaders of the five most powerful athletics conferences, responding to players’ concerns that they spend too much time on their sports, are weighing ideas to limit the hours athletes are required to devote to their teams.

One idea calls for a ban on practices and other mandatory athletics activities, not including competition, from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Another proposal would create a three-week break at the end of the traditional playing season, allowing athletes to take time off.

Okay, you can stop laughing now.

My favorite bit:

Teams also organize voluntary “captains’ workouts,” allowing players to practice outside of the 20 hours, as long as no coaches are present. (Players have a name for such practices, which are essentially mandatory: “moptional.”)

When they’re inventing words to describe a practice that circumvents a rule, you’ve got an issue, fellas.


Filed under Look For The Union Label, The NCAA

“We didn’t envision this when he came on campus.”

Baker Mayfield continues to be screwed by a program that never even gave him a scholarship.

The school that needed that unrecruited walk-on to bail them out would not let go. In fact, Texas Tech has more control over an All-America caliber quarterback — more than 24 months in the team’s rear-view mirror — than anyone except perhaps Mayfield’s parents.

The NCAA, the conference, and the school — specifically coach Kliff Kingsbury — would not sign off on Mayfield getting a fourth year of eligibility in 2017. The Red Raiders did not provide him with the opportunity to use a one-time transfer exception. Oh sure, they can hide behind Big 12 and NCAA rules, but the fact remains.

By not signing off on waiving Mayfield’s redshirt year after he transferred to Oklahoma in 2014, none of them agreed to do the right thing.

Because Texas Tech refused to grant the exception, Mayfield’s career at Oklahoma will come to an end after next season.  That’s fair, right?

Evidently the conference thinks so.

The Big 12 faculty athletic representatives who denied an appeal in May won’t so much as reveal the vote totals against Mayfield’s request. All we know is that it was a majority, at least 6-4 against.

Those FARs are supposed to be a moral conscious of fair treatment of the student-athlete. In this case, they’re hiding behind their votes.

As with most cases like this, the right thing to do gets lost in the crossfire. No doubt, Big 12 and NCAA officials are worried an exemption for Mayfield will open some sort of loophole — except that none of us can remember many unrecruited walk-ons becoming All-Americans.

Yeah, can’t set any precedents that might favor student-athletes.  That way lies madness.


Filed under Big 12 Football, Look For The Union Label

Shut up and play.

A bill has been introduced in the Missouri legislature that “Provides that any college athlete on scholarship who refuses to play for a reason unrelated to health shall have his or her scholarship revoked”.

Because, freedom.

(h/t Bill Connelly)




UPDATE #2:  The bill’s author has it in for Gary Pinkel, too.

The bill, which as of Monday night had yet to be posted in full, would also fine a head coach for siding with the players in such a situation. Brattin criticized Pinkel for aligning with his players. Shortly after doing so, Pinkel retired due to health reasons.

“Whenever they go and refuse to play and hold our school and our organization hostage by refusal, it’s completely ridiculous,” Brattin said. “I shouldn’t even have to be sponsoring a bill like this.

“What a disgrace to Missouri.”

He continued: “I think it falls squarely upon the coach who gave the anointed blessing to this type of behavior. If they want to engage in this type of behavior, do it on their own time.”


Filed under Look For The Union Label, Political Wankery

Meltdown coming.

Hoo, boy.  This ought to be something.


UPDATE:  “That’s what makes America great,” Richt said at his weekly news conference, “and I think that he handled it well.”


UPDATE #2:  And now, the players.

The power wielded by Missouri’s football program did not go unnoticed inside Georgia’s practice facility.

“It’s extremely powerful, that athletics, students on the football team, could have that much of an impact,” senior tight end Jay Rome said.

Rome said he’d consider partaking in a football boycott if the situation was important and called for it…

… With the Missouri football team helping campus protesters achieve the ouster of Wolfe and Loftin, Georgia receiver Malcolm Mitchell said it shows the kind of platform that college athletes can have when it comes to taking a stand on an issue.

“I think that opens the door for a lot of teams to come together and rally behind whatever it is they stand for,” Mitchell said. “The football team is its own community on universities – and obviously with a lot of power as we saw in Missouri. I think we’ll see that more often now.”


Filed under Georgia Football, Look For The Union Label