For First Time Ever, College Football Players Organize to Unionize

The effort, if successful, could re-make college sports.

By Carla Murphy Jan 29, 2014

For the first time, a group of Division I college football players are seeking to unionize. At a news conference in Chicago yesterday, Northwestern’s starting quarterback last season, Kain Colter along with the newly formed College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) announced their intention to file a petition to unionize with the National Labor Relations Board. In order to do so, Colter would have needed more than a third of Northwestern’s 85 scholarship players to sign union cards. Colter and company’s move to unionize joins the O’Bannon lawsuit in escalating long-simmering tensions between college athletes, coaches, universities and the N.C.A.A. over profit-sharing–or, lack thereof. It also joins the unfolding UNC-Chapel Hill scandal in focusing attention on post-college life and the dismal graduation rates of black male athletes. They are over-represented in high-revenue-generating sports like college football and basketball. 

For Colter, better healthcare appears to be driving his effort to unionize:

"The same medical issues that professional athletes face are the same medical issues collegiate athletes face, except we’re left unprotected," Colter said. "The N.F.L. has the N.F.L.P.A., the N.B.A. has the N.B.A.P.A. and now college athletes have [CAPA]."

According to the New York Times, Tuesday’s announcement is the culmination of a series of small acts this football season: one week, several players from around the country wore "All Players United" (A.P.U.) wristbands and during a Rose Bowl title game, the NCPA flew a banner over the stadium that read, "Wake Up, N.C.A.A."

Chief legal officer for the N.C.A.A. Donald Remy responded to yesterday’s announcement, backed by United Steelworkers:

"This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education."

Northwestern belongs to the Big Ten, the biggest revenue-generating conference in college sports in the country.

(h/t The New York Times)