Northwestern players are unionized... So, what now?

For those calling the Northwestern players forming a union extreme, you might be right.

But the College Athletes Players Association felt they had zero choice, president Ramogi Huma told Can't ignore this anymore.

“We got a bunch of doors slammed in our face,” Huma said. “Given the context of the issues we face, that was unacceptable. One of the hardest things to witness is watching players cycling in and out of the process without protections. If appropriate steps were taken over a decade ago, players could have protections and we wouldn’t be here.”

Well, we’re here.

Northwestern players won the first round of a fight that’s far from over, but is one step closer to players as employees instead of student-athletes.

If you go by the language in the National Labor Relations Board decision, football players as employees should be the standard. Regional director Peter Sung Ohr said in Wednesday's 24-page decision that "Employer's football players who receive scholarships fall squarely within (the) broad definition of employee...The record makes clear that the employer's scholarship players are identified and recruited in the first instance because of their football prowess and not because of their academic achievement in high school." 

If this trend mushrooms, that language, spurred by alleged 50-hour work weeks for players, is why.

But what does a college union really look like? And what’s the end game?

I reached out to Huma to help with this process.

* Which schools are next? Is yours?

Private schools such as Duke and Rice could be sensible targets if CAPA takes aim at college football’s new version of expansion.

But that’s not the plan right now. CAPA had a unique leader in Kain Colter, who was willing to be the face of the franchise. Getting that elsewhere might not be easy.

“This is our primary focus,” said Huma when asked about targeting future schools.

And this is a big job.

The CAPA is led by president Ramogi Huma and former QB Kain Colter. (USATSI)
The CAPA is led by president Ramogi Huma and former QB Kain Colter. (USATSI)

* When will collective bargaining begin?

Not likely before the 2014 season. Northwestern is appealing to the NLRB, which could take awhile. There’s wiggle room for the potential Federal Court drag out. 2015 might be ambitious. Still hard to tell, though.

* So what is collective bargaining in the college game going to look like?

There will be a table. There will be lawyers. Yes, many lawyers.

“Typically it would be representatives from the union itself and Kain and a couple of player reps, they would come on, and try to negotiate,” Huma said. “Sitting across the table with the athletic director and compliance officer and probably whoever handles issues.”

* How many players will actually be involved?

The 85 scholarship football players will vote on whether they want to be involved. They have a 30-day window to decide. Huma said he expects a majority participation. This one's tricky because although CAPA certainly did its research, Northwestern players seemed to recoil a bit in a statement. Some will just want to go to school and play ball without having to attend CBA meetings.

* Is the end game paying players?

No. Huma makes clear – players are paid. They get a scholarship.

At the bargaining table, the players will ask for reformed brain trauma study/prevention, guidelines for the student opportunity fund (for example, money for players to go home for family emergency or to help fathers with kids while in school), and likely a trust fund set aside as incentive for players who graduate on time.

“If they don’t, they can cap that money to graduate,” Huma said.

* Will the NCAA cave in and just try to settle all of it – union, players, O’Bannon?

I recommend you read SI’s Andy Staples’ piece on this topic, but as for trusting the NCAA to loosen the clutch on the amateurism model, Huma isn’t counting on it.

It’s the NCAA.

“NCAA is incapable of reforming itself because it doesn’t prioritize players’ needs,” Huma said. “Every dollar they don’t spend on players they spend on (itself).”

* How should we interpret the word ‘employee’ in the context of the college game?

This is a delicate one, especially with the very real implications of taxes on scholarship money.

Some players simply want to be students and not employees, especially if they aren’t getting direct money in their pockets as a result.

'Employee' has a stigma, no doubt.

I don’t even think the players wanted to do this. But Huma and Colter felt drastic means were necessary.

Huma says as long as there’s a fair negotiation, students and schools can live comfortably.

“We believe NCAA sports is professional,” Huma said. “Look at other multi-billion sports entitles. They all have unions and are all very popular. We don’t have to guess.”

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