Northwestern's Kain Colter: Playing football 'truly is a job'

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The second small step in determining whether Northwestern football players can form a union was taken Tuesday at a National Labor Relations Board hearing in Chicago.

Late last month, Ramogi Huma -- a former UCLA player who now is president of the National College Players Association -- filed a petition in Chicago on behalf of the players with the NLRB. Tuesday, former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter testified before a NLRB hearing that is expected to last three days.

"It truly is a job," Colter said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "There is no way around it."

Colter testified of 50- to 60-hour work weeks and said, "It's like war. I like to think of it like the military/Navy SEALs. They spend months and weeks preparing for operations. It's the same thing as football. We spend months getting ready for our operations."

The Tribune reported that CAPA attorney John Adam said the players are school employees and "want a voice in their working conditions, their health and safety, their insurance, medical treatments for injuries that stay with them long after football, sometimes forever."

In his opening statement, Northwestern attorney Alex Barbour said the school contends its players are "always students as opposed to employees," the Tribune reported.

Barbour also said collective bargaining would create "competitive balance issues," issues with non-revenue sports and Title IX and would require a "complete overhaul" of the governing structure at the NCAA and conference levels.

It is important to remember that Northwestern is a private university and that the National Labor Relations Act does not govern employees at public universities. States have varying laws on unionization and collective bargaining rights. Indeed, 24 states are right-to-work states; in those 24, state laws limit opportunities for employees of public institutions to unionize. Among the right-to-work states are Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.

SI.com legal analyst Michael McCann said last month that, "In theory, this dynamic could disadvantage public universities in right-to-work states while recruiting high school athletes. If those athletes want to be in a college sports union, they may not be able to do so at public universities in right-to-work states."

The hearing comes early in what could be an extremely long process. The NCAA probably could head this off if it could come up with some kind of comprehensive package that would include, among other things, long-term medical coverage, scholarship reforms, stipends and a cut of TV revenue through a sort of trust fund. But for a group of people associated with institutes of higher learning, the NCAA has proved itself embarrassingly incapable of logical thought. Expect a long, arduous road.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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