College

Emma: NCAA’s Day Of Reckoning Coming — Just Not Today

Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald. (Getty Images)

Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald. (Getty Images)

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By Chris Emma-

EVANSTON (CBS) — One by one, they walked out the door of Welsh-Ryan Arena. Many donned team-issued purple sweats and evaded the media scrum with backdoor detours and loud music pumping through the headphones.

An ordinary Friday morning on Northwestern’s campus was anything but. A historic occasion was taking place inside a private club of the school’s basketball arena. For the first time ever, college athletes voted on forming a players’ union.

The magnitude sunk in for these Northwestern football players, with every national news live shot and photographer chasing down kids like members of the paparazzi. A Northwestern union could start the fight against the NCAA’s flawed, sham of a system. But this movement will never get off the ground in Evanston.

Most believe the Northwestern union vote will be “No” — in overwhelming fashion, as a high-placed source has indicated. This matches the Wildcats’ on-record quotes, as so many have spoken against the formation of a union.

Should the National Labor Review Board in Washington D.C. uphold the regional board’s hearing, the Northwestern votes will be removed from the tightly-locked suitcase, which will inevitably reveal a “No” to the movement.

Perhaps one day, the NCAA will meet its match. It sure needs great reform, from its top structure to the most simple, basic injustices.

College players — let’s not call them “student-athletes” — need their seat at the table. They deserve stipends from the multi-billion dollar joke of a governing body that profits great portions off the kids in uniform. They are owed medical coverage, guaranteed scholarships and the right for protection.

This will come to fruition with a players’ union. The NCAA will be held accountable for its years of unfair practices.

On the same day Northwestern football players voted for a union, Michigan’s star basketball center, Mitch McGary, announced his intentions to enter the NBA Draft after the NCAA handed down a one-year suspension for a failed drug test, as he tested positive for marijuana. By comparison, the NBA doesn’t fine or suspend for one failed drug test; it implements just a five-game suspension for the third failed test.

A players’ union could fight on McGary’s behalf, exposing the embarrassing message the NCAA attempted to force on a premier program’s star player. McGary will have that benefit on his side when he enters the professional level.

Northwestern could foster the beginning of reform for the corrupt NCAA. After battling through regional boards and countless lawyers, it would face the ultimate challenge — a union of college athletes taking on the suits. But this isn’t going to happen.

Inside the walls of Northwestern’s locker room, the chemistry is too close. The influence of coach Pat Fitzgerald is too strong, and his strong “No” stance to a union resonates with the players. Northwestern is a prestigious private school on a beautiful campus with a Big Ten football program that has seen its greatest run of success. The players won’t risk it with their vote.

From the very start, this wasn’t going to work. Northwestern is the wrong test case for this to work.

The votes won’t be opened unless the NLRB in Washington stands with the regional decision, which could take months and even a year to occur. Should it be denied, the votes will be thrown out and disregarded.

The College Athletes Players Association — led by former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter — has enough on its side to make a union work, but it won’t be led by the Wildcats. It can move to a different school, one that will open its doors to representing change for the NCAA.

In Evanston on a chilly Friday morning, Northwestern football players filed in one by one and took a step toward history. The real destination is still long in the distance.

Chris Emma covers the college sports scene for CBS Chicago. Follow him on Twitter @CEmmaScout.