Kain Colter, Northwestern to fight NCAA 'dictatorship'

Kain Colter, Northwestern to fight NCAA 'dictatorship'
January 28, 2014, 3:00 pm
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Vinnie Duber

Student Union

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Kain Colter is ready for a fight.

It's not the kind of competition he experienced during his career at Northwestern, fighting the likes of Ohio State and Illinois on the gridiron. And it's not the kind of battle he waged during his senior season, fighting numerous adversities from disappointing losses to various injuries. No, this fight is very different, and it's the biggest he's ever faced: Kain Colter is taking on the NCAA.

The former Northwestern quarterback called ruling body of college sports a "dictatorship" during a Tuesday press conference, the one he used to announce that Northwestern football players were seeking to unionize.

"After bringing this to the team, I’m pleased to announce that the Northwestern football players have signed cards authorizing the College Athletes Players Association to assert their rights before the National Labor Relations Board," Colter said.

"The NFL has the NFLPA. The NBA has the NBAPA. And now college athletes have the College Athletes Players Association."

[MORE: NCAA responds to Northwestern's attempt to unionize]

The formation of the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) happened after Colter reached out to Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA linebacker and the president of the National College Players Association, and the pair agreed some more drastic steps were needed to get college athletes a seat at the table. With clearly stated goals of getting better protection for student-athletes and improving the graduation rate, creating a labor organization to get collective-bargaining rights was the final outcome.

"I came to the conclusion that these injustices occur in the NCAA because student-athletes don’t have a voice, they don’t have a seat at the table," Colter said. "The current model resembles a dictatorship where the NCAA places these rules and regulations on the students without their input or without their negotiation."

Tuesday morning, Northwestern players submitted signed cards to the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago. Plus, CAPA filed a petition to allow Northwestern players to have an election to be represented by CAPA if the board determines the players are in fact employees. These actions were undertaken with the backing of the United Steelworkers union. The board is expected to hold a hearing and make a ruling, after which either side can appeal for a federal-court review. If the Northwestern players win, their rights would apply to all FBS football players and Division-I basketball players at private schools across the country.

[RELATED: Paying players not among CAPA's listed goals]

While the players who signed the cards were not revealed, Colter said "nearly 100 percent" of the football team was involved.

"The process was relatively easy," Colter said of convincing his teammates to sign up. "I think all college athletes across the nation, and especially football players, can relate to a lot of the things that we’re talking about and they could see the injustice. We didn’t have to show that too much. As far as getting the cards signed, an overwhelming majority of the football team signed the cards. Nearly 100 percent. It was clear that the football team believed in this action and that they were ready to make a change."

Colter read this statement on behalf of all the Wildcats who signed cards:

"We Northwestern football players are grateful for our opportunity to play football for a prestigious university and athletic program. However, just as others who compete in multi-billion-dollar industries have done, we must secure and maintain comprehensive protections by asserting the rights afforded to us under labor laws. We are not taking these measures out of any mistreatment from Northwestern, however, we realize we need to eliminate unjust NCAA rules that create physical, academic and financial hardships for college athletes across the nation.

"This fight may take a while, and we understand that many of us may have graduated before players receive protections. We realize, however, that to remain silent while players are denied justice is to be complicit and inflicting injustice on future generations of college athletes. In waging our struggle, we will comply with all existing rules of Northwestern, the Big Ten and the NCAA."

[MORE: Northwestern AD Jim Phillips responds to team's union attempt]

One of the more notable distinctions to make with this announcement is that the payment of players is not one of the stated goals of CAPA. Many see this as the next step in the debate over whether student-athletes deserve a cut of the NCAA's multi-billion-dollar annual haul. Colter and Huma voiced the desire to make sure college athletes don't have to pay for medical expenses stemming from sports-related injuries and for the improvement of graduation rates among college football and basketball players.

"After years of advocating for college athletes’ rights, it’s become clear that public pressure, legislative efforts and lawsuits are not enough to bring comprehensive reform to the NCAA, which has little interest in protecting its athletes," Huma said. "The players need more than an advocacy group. College athletes need a labor organization that can get them a seat at the table. I’m here to announce the formation of the College Athletes Players Association, a labor organization dedicated to establishing a means for college athletes to collectively bargain for basic protections in NCAA sports.

"This ends a period of 60 years in which the NCAA knowingly established a pay-for-play system, while using terms like ‘student-athlete’ and ‘amateurism’ to try and skirt labor laws."