A group of Northwestern University alumni who played football in college held a press conference the day before the current football team was scheduled to vote on whether to form a union. Members of the group, called Game Changers – Collegiate Alumni Athletes for Change – criticized the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) rather than the University and called upon Northwestern’s administrators and athletic directors to lead the way in allowing scholarship athletes in revenue-producing sports to have a voice at the table.
Rick Telander, sports columnist, said he is a member of the media, “but first and foremost I am a Northwestern alum.”
“Unions are not even conceived of unless workers feel there is something that needs to be addressed. For 45 years, the NCAA has done nothing. Players have no voice. If the NCAA had not let things get to this point, we would not have this conversation. The fact [is] that Northwestern does better than anyone else [but] Northwestern can do better,” said Mr. Telander.
Many speakers praised Kain Colter, a former NU quarterback, who has led the move to unionize.
“Kain Colter is a hero. He stood to get nothing [from this] but he gave his body to Northwestern. …“This is a very complex matter. It has to do with whistleblowing. We take no position on unionizing,” Mr. Telander said.
Throughout the hour-long press conference, the Game Changers repeated their support for the University, what it stands for and the education it provides.
“Kain Colter, with his heroic acts provided us with [this] opportunity, because what Kain has done has brought six decades of Northwestern athletes together,” said Kevin Brown, NU, 1985, and Youth and Young Adult Outreach manager for the City of Evanston.
“We got involved because of Kain Colter – his heroic stance, his courage and his leadership in bringing this matter to the public,” added Alex Moyer.
Mr. Brown read a letter from the Game Changers to Northwestern’s Board of Trustees. The letter stressed the University’s “deep and rich history of student activism” and said, “We have not taken a position regarding his cause, but we believe that Mr. Colter embodies the spirit of Northwestern University.” The letter requested a meeting with the University trustees and administration and also said, “We want meaningful reforms toward a national standard for scholarship athletes in revenue-producing sports.”
Mr. Telander said the group believes that Northwestern is in a unique position to effect change. “We’d like Northwestern to be the first and best. We don’t want to talk about the union but about change [for] college athletes in revenue-producing sports. We commend Kain for his intelligence and what he learned at Northwestern.”
The group presented a list of 10 changes they would like to see the University put into effect. Among these are expanding sports-related medical benefits; giving players the option to return to school at any time to complete their degree without cost; expanding and guaranteeing athletic scholarships beyond four years and providing a free graduate school option in the fifth year; increasing the living stipend to include personal and miscellaneous expenses, providing a transportation allowance to and from home at the beginning and end of each school year, providing a transportation allowance for parents to attend two home games; and creating a committee that includes Game Changers representatives, current players, athletic administrators and possibly board members to proactively find ways to provide the best possible protection for players.
Todd Jenkins said, “We all had a positive experience at Northwestern. We’re all former players who are loyal to Northwestern. We came forward to assure these young guys [the present NU football team] that, regardless of the outcome of the vote, they will still be members of the Wildcat family.”
Mike Adamle, a former NU athlete who attended the conference, said the union was not the issue. “It’s about us getting together as former Northwestern athletes. We want Northwestern to lead the way.”
“The football players,” Mr. Adamle said, are “super students.”
Alan Cubbage, vice president for University relations at Northwestern, told the RoundTable, “We appreciate the suggestions and we’ll consider them thoughtfully.”