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Football workers of the world unite


This is really Erik’s beat, but the NLRB is holding a set of hearings this week on the nascent movement among college football players to organize a union. The first witness was former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter (he exhausted his eligibility last semester and plans to graduate in June). Colter is trying to convince the board that major college football players are first and foremost employees of the university, and only secondarily — indeed one might say incidentally — college students.

Some highlights from his testimony (which hasn’t concluded yet), as summarized by a friend who is following the hearings live:

-Colter said players were prohibited from scheduling classes before 11 AM because it interfered with practice.

-Colter said players can’t take eight-week classes in the summer. They conflict with a training camp.

-Colter detailed training camp schedule. Said during training camp (aug 1-31) the day is 6:30am-10pm.

-Colter: “I absolutely hate when people say we get a free ride or a free education.” Says they work for everything.

-Colter testified about a company hired by Northwestern tells players how to manage their social media. He says players’ speech is trained and closely monitored.

-Colter testified that players have a 40-50 hour work week during the season (for football-related activities alone), and that their football-related workload is around 30 hours per week during the off-season. 60 hour work weeks are typical during spring and fall practices, which together last seven weeks.

— Says he knows of only one player who has stayed home and missed summer workouts.

— During the nine-month school year players are separated into weight loss, gain and maintenance categories for meals. Colter was “sad to say [he] was on weight loss for a bit.”

Says “football makes it very hard for you to succeed academically. You have to sacrifice one and we’re not allowed to sacrifice football.”

Football players are discouraged from majoring in areas (like engineering) that would require too much studying to stay academically eligible.

Colter’s main point is that football players at Northwestern are primarily university employees rather than college students. NW’s coaches exercise significant control over their day-to-day activities (much more so than the typical boss in an ordinary workplace), the players are compensated by NW for playing football, and that most fundamentally they have what is in all but name full-time jobs — jobs that generate enormous profits, of which the workers see almost nothing.

What sorts of profits? TV rights alone for the new college football playoff will generate billions of dollars over the next decade:

The group that will administer the coming major-college football playoff agreed in principle for ESPN to broadcast the playoff games and “selected other games” for 12 years, it was announced Wednesday by the group formerly known as the Bowl Championship Series. The four-team playoff and the broadcast deal will begin after the 2014 season.

A person familiar with the negotiations said it is worth about $470 million annually or $5.64 billion for the duration of the contract

Another crucial point in all this is that, as major college football programs go, Northwestern is known for being close to the far end of the spectrum away from being a true “football factory” — the school won’t admit just anybody with a fast 40 time and an impressive bench press, the players are actually expected to go to class, etc.

If this is what major college football looks like at Northwestern, what does it look like in the SEC? (The answer to this rhetorical question is, “like the NFL if NFL teams had minimum wage payrolls and no labor union to deal with”).

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