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Former Northwestern players say school interfering with union process

More college football: Dennis Dodd | Jeremy Fowler | Latest news

A group of former Northwestern players intends to communicate the unionization process has "been interfered with" by school officials, a day before those players vote on forming a union.

The group calling itself "Game Changers, Collegiate Alumni Athletes for Change" already had publicized a Thursday press conference to announce "a blueprint for policies and proposals that could enhance the on and off field experiences of scholar-athletes."

Without taking a stand on unionization, the group also asked in a letter to Northwestern's board of trustees dated Thursday for "modifications to the governance process to give players a greater voice and a substantive stake in the creation of policies and regulations that impact their interests."

A 10-point plan to be announced Thursday is supported by a group of nine former Wildcats that includes famed journalists Rick Telander and Mike Adamle. However, Kevin Brown (1981-85) told the group was particularly concerned that Fitzgerald seemingly changed his stance on former quarterback Kain Colter, the face of the unionization movement.

"We all love our program but we have a problem that this process has been interfered with," Brown said.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald said in a January tweet that Colter and "our student-athletes have followed their beliefs with great passion and courage." It has been more recently reported that Fitzgerald was urging players to vote no on unionization.

Jeremy Fowler reported earlier this week the existence of the school's anti-union talking points discussed with players.

A school spokesman said the school has opposed unionization without violating National Labor Relations Board guidelines.

"We were very disturbed because it was every sort of classic union busting," Brown said. "We just thought that Northwestern is better than that. This is not a typical labor management dispute."

Brown added, "We took the position that we were disappointed in a couple of things - in our coach who we love … that he supported the idea of what Kain was doing and came out a week later and said he was against the union."

Game Changers met with Fitzgerald last week asking him, "whether or not it was his decision to come out against the union," Brown said. A school official reiterated that Fitzgerald has supported Colter in his quest for change on the national level. Change is needed, Fitzgerald has said, but unionization is not the answer.

"Northwestern has informed the players the university's opposition [to unionization]. We've done that consistently," said Alan Cubbage, another school spokesman.

"This is an issue that has attracted a great deal of national interest," Cubbage added. "We have many alumni who have expressed interest. Coach Fitzgerald has been very clear about opposing the establishment of a union."

Game Changers made available to that letter to Northwestern's board of trustees. The group seeks a meeting with the administration saying Northwestern should "lead the national conversation regarding the rights of scholarship athletes, in what has become a multi-billion dollar industry ... We want reasonable and meaningful reforms towards a national standard for scholarship athletes in revenue producing sports."

Other former players listed on the letter include Pat Harrington, Chris Hinton, Todd Jenkins, Alex Moyer, Tracy Parsons, Richard Buchanan and Jared Carpenter.

A regional National Labor Relations Board director ruled in February that Northwestern's scholarship football players are employees. Northwestern has asked the NLRB to overturn the ruling.

Seventy-six Northwestern players are eligible to vote to unionize on Friday. They do not all have to do so. For their organization -- College Athletics Players Association -- to form a union a majority of players must vote yes.

NCAA president Mark Emmert said the idea of unionization was "grossly inappropriate" earlier this month at the Final Four. Several experts have predicted that the fight over this particular case could drag on for years and end up in the Supreme Court.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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