Players on the Northwestern University football team now have the right to unionize.
So, will they?
Scholarship players will vote within 30 days on whether they want to unionize and be represented by the College Athletes Players Association.
If the team decides to unionize, Arizona Cardinals kicker Jay Feely says the move will tackle a variety of issues concerning today’s collegiate and professional players.
“What they’re trying to accomplish with unionizing is to create workplace safety, workers’ compensation, injury protection, as well as a collective rule governing practices and what you can do at practices,” Feely told Doug and Wolf of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
“I think that’s one of the biggest things. You still have college coaches that have the autonomy to create whatever practice format they want. If you look at the last collective bargaining agreement, we may have gave up some financial gains, potentially, as players and as the NFL Players Association, that we could have attained in exchange for a safer workplace environment.”
The most recent NFL CBA introduced revisions to practice scheduling, including eliminating two-a-day practices, setting a maximum of 4.5 hours on field per day in training camp and enforcing unannounced inspections by NFLPA staff to ensure compliance.
After suiting up for the University of Michigan for three years, and as a 13-year NFL pro, Feely suggests that the college game doesn’t look out for a player’s long-term health compared to the NFL.
“I’ve had conversations with athletic directors that wish they could change their college coach’s philosophy on practice, where they’re hitting still everyday, where they’re in full pads everyday and you’re putting players at risk from a health standpoint,” Feely said. “Those athletic directors don’t have the power to go to a coach, for example, Nick Saban, and say ‘Hey, we’re not going to practice this way anymore’. But, if you had a union and you were able to as college players create a uniform collective rule that would dictate what college coaches could do, you would create a safer environment.”
Northwestern announced they would appeal the decision of the National Labor Relations Board making football players employees of the school, but if the decision stands, the case could be taken to a higher level court.