(CBS) Led by quarterback Kain Colter, Northwestern football players are making the historic move of seeking to be represented by a labor union.
Colter made the announcement in a press conference Tuesday.
Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, filed a petition on behalf of football players at Northwestern, ESPN.com reported. It would mark the first time in college athletics that players seek to be represented by a union and viewed as employees.
“College athletes need a labor organization that can give them a seat at the table,” Huma said.
“I’m here to announce the formation of the College Athletes Players Association, a labor organzation dedicated to establishing the means for college athletes to collectively bargain for basic protections in NCAA sports … This spans a period of 60 years in which the NCAA knowingly established a pay-for-play system while using terms like student-athlete and amateurism to skirt labor laws.”
Meanwhile, the NCAA released the following statement in response:
This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education. Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize.
Many student athletes are provided scholarships and many other benefits for their participation. There is no employment relationship between the NCAA, its affiliated institutions or student-athletes.
Student-athletes are not employees within any definition of the National Labor Relations Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act. We are confident the National Labor Relations Board will find in our favor, as there is no right to organize student-athletes.
Colter downplayed that this is about financial compensation.
“A lot of people will think this is all about money; it’s not,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “We’re asking for a seat at the table to get our voice heard.”
Colter pointed out real-life examples that irk him.
“Basic necessities struggle to be delivered to these student-athletes despite the billions of dollars being generated annually,” Colter said. “Never should a student-athlete be forced to pay his or her own medical bills from their playing days.”
Colter also emphasized this is a fight against the NCAA, not Northwestern. The battle will almost certainly have to play out in the legal realm and courts in the coming years.