In late January, the National College Players Association, now known as the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA), filed a petition to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on behalf of members of the Northwestern University football team seeking collective bargaining rights.
Long story short, the players felt that they should qualify as employees of the university and as such should be allowed to unionize. Last Wednesday, the Chicago district of the NLRB agreed. The regional board ruled that the players, as employees of the university, have the right to unionize and collectively bargain.
Now the case heads out of Region 13, the Chicago district of the NLRB, and will likely be heard by the full National Labor Relations Board in Washington. Northwestern has already appealed the regional board’s decision and both sides are preparing to take this case to the nation’s capital.
When the case is heard in D.C., it is possible that the NLRB will rule in the university’s favor and strike down the decision of Region 13. If CAPA wins at the national level however, the university will still reserve the right to decline to bargain with the union and instead sue in court.
The path to unequivocal victory for CAPA is long and uncertain, but this initial ruling in Chicago is just the tip of the iceberg. Whether from a national board, the court system, Congress or the NCAA, radical change is coming to college athletics.
If the Region 13 decision is struck down at any point along the way, the CAPA movement will not fade quietly into the night. No, the movement is here to stay, primarily due to its modest aims.
At the risk of oversimplification, CAPA’s goals can be adequately summed up into two words – “health” and “education.” This isn’t a movement predicated on paying college athletes. Stipends and jersey royalties may come to the fore in the near future, but the Northwestern-led movement that is here and now is focused on an entirely different set of issues.
CAPA has outlined its four primary objectives:
– Guarantee coverage for sports-related medical expenses for current and former players.
– Reduce contact in practices like the NFL has done to minimize the risk of sports-related traumatic brain injury. Place independent concussion experts on the sidelines and establish uniform “return to play” protocols.
– Establish an educational trust fund to help former players complete their degree and reward those who graduate on time.
– Punishments against players for rule violations should be consistent across campuses.
So let’s get this straight. The College Athletes Players Association wants to ensure that former college athletes are not saddled with thousands of dollars of medical bills due to injuries sustained during their playing careers. CAPA is also pushing for practice policies that demonstrate an awareness of sports-related traumatic brain injury. Another goal is to create a fund to help athletes that do not “red-shirt” (and thus complete their athletic careers in four years) go on to graduate school like many of their classmates who remain on athletic scholarship for five years. And finally, CAPA is pushing for equitable punishments across campuses.
The College Athletes Players Association is concerned – concerned about personal medical costs and policies that do not recognize the prevalence of traumatic brain injury. CAPA is concerned that some athletes are able to go on to graduate school while covered by a scholarship while others are not. CAPA is concerned that some schools give their athletes a free pass and others punish their athletes severely. Sure sounds radical to me.
It’s time for the NCAA to realize that change is needed and is inevitable. CAPA’s structure and function may change over the coming months and years, but CAPA’s modest mission and message is here to stay.
Connor Maytnier is a freshman in the College.