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Chicago Sun-Times

The question about whether college athletes are employees long predated the College Athletes Players Association.

That question was answered when the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board last week granted Northwestern's scholarship football players the right to unionize. Though NU is appealing the ruling, the recognition of CAPA as a union has raised even more questions.

Chief among them is, how will CAPA be able to negotiate with NU when the school is bound by the NCAA's rules of amateurism?

''Right now, there are some things that schools could do under NCAA rules and there are some [CAPA] goals under that,'' CAPA president Ramogi Huma said in a phone interview.

Conventional thinking about revenue-generating college athletes is that they should be paid, but Huma's immediate focus is based more on policy. He would like to see health coverage for current and former players, reform of transfer rules and policies that reduce the risk of traumatic brain injuries. All of that can be done under current NCAA rules.

While CAPA acknowledges NU takes great interest in the welfare of its players, the university has taken an obstructionist view when it comes to the creation of a body to advocate for them.

Ultimately, Huma thinks CAPA was successful because of its ability to narrow its focus.

''[The regional director of the Chicago NLRB office] stuck to precedent and labor law, and that's how we went about the case,'' he said. ''It's pretty objective. There was no gray area.''

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com - Twitter: @SethGruen

 

April 1, 2014

 

 
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