Unions in college football?

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For some time, the NCAA, academic institutions and students have been debating how college athletes — who earn millions of dollars for their institutions — should be treated in terms of compensation, benefits and having a voice in college athletic decisions. Leave it to Northwestern University brainiacs to take the issue head-on and in an imaginative fashion.

On Tuesday, former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter announced the formation of the College Athletes Players Association. That same day CAPA filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board seeking recognition of the union as collective bargaining representative for Northwestern’s football players. The United Steelworkers and the NFL Players Association are actively supporting this unionizing effort by the football players. Colter says union representation for college athletes isn’t just about the money. CAPA intends to address other issues like medical care, concussion resources, increased graduation, and scholarship protection.

college-football-unionsSome recent history: In a game last fall against Maine, Colter and other Northwestern football players wore sweatbands bearing the letters “A.P.U.” — “All Players United.” Athletes from Georgia and Georgia Tech did likewise.

What happens next? To be able to unionize, the football players must be “employees” of Northwestern under the National Labor Relations Act. The National Labor Relations Board has scheduled a February 7 hearing in Chicago to sort out this and other issues. Keep in mind that in 2004 the Labor Board ruled that Brown University teaching and research assistants were not “employees” and did not have the right to union representation.

Sorry about the reference to Northwestern students as “brainiacs.” I’m an Ohio State graduate, and it was intended as a compliment.