Northwestern players see push as spark for change

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 12, 2014 at 5:03 pm •  Published: April 12, 2014

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — No matter how they feel about the push to unionize, at least a few Northwestern players see the movement as a spark for change in college sports.

The question is whether forming a union to bargain for better health insurance and work conditions is the right move for them.

"This is a real issue that people brought up," linebacker Collin Ellis said Saturday. "It shows the power that people could possibly attain. That in itself speaks volumes, and that in itself could be a catalyst for change — yet I feel not at the expense of what we have here."

So Ellis plans to vote against unionizing later this month. The same goes for quarterback Trevor Siemian. Others, such as linebacker Jimmy Hall, wouldn't reveal which way they're leaning.

Either way, they seem to agree on this: They have no issue with their coach or school.

"That's something that I think has kind of been twisted, being a negative thing like we're going against our school," Hall said. "But I don't think that was any of the players' motive starting off — to go against the school. We kind of felt there were things we could change in the whole greater landscape, and that's why guys signed the (union) card (in January)."

Hall spoke Saturday after the final practice of an eventful spring. With former quarterback Kain Colter leading the push to unionize through the College Athletes Players Association, the spotlight has been shining on the program and it won't be turned off anytime soon.

A regional director for the National Labor Relations Board announced on March 26 that Northwestern's football players meet the definition of employees under federal law and are allowed to form the first union for college athletes. The university has appealed, saying it provided "overwhelming evidence" at a hearing earlier this year that the players are "students first." It also noted that it provides four-year scholarships for athletes, not year-to-year scholarships provided by other schools, and that primary or secondary medical coverage is provided as well.

The players are set to vote by secret ballot April 25 on whether to form a union.

"Whether guys are for or against the union, they still believe in the main goals when we signed the card," Hall said. "They still believe that there needs to be something done, that our system isn't perfect. Whether they're for the union at this point, what I think is all the players talk and respect each other's decisions."