UI mulls Northwestern case

BY IAN MURPHY | APRIL 04, 2014 5:00 AM

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The University of Iowa Presidential Committee on Athletics tackled a controversial topic at its meeting when it discussed the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board’s ruling that Northwestern football players could unionize.

UI law Professor N. William Hines, the head of the committee, said on Thursday that while the ruling will not immediately affect the UI, there are parallels between the universities and most major college football programs.

Hines said Iowa will not be affected because the state has public-employee-bargaining regulations. However, he said some aspects of the ruling, which detailed the day-to-day lives of Northwestern football players, could apply to the Hawkeye athletics teams.

“Among other things, it makes you wonder ‘Gee, I wonder if that’s how our football team lives,’ ” Hines said.

The petition to the labor board included four items: medical coverage after graduation, marketing rights to their images, an education trust for players who come back seeking more education, and expansion of scholarships to cover the full cost of education.

One topic student-athletes are concerned with is scholarships. Northwestern’s football players are seeking an extension of their scholarships to cover the expense of college.

Director of Athletics Gary Barta said officials have tried to take the issue of scholarships to the NCAA and Big Ten organizations but have so far been unsuccessful.

The plaintiffs in the Northwestern case wanted extended medical care after their playing careers ended.  Barta said the UI covers medical care for athletes up to two years after graduation.

Hines said there are still several hurdles the case must go through before it is decided, and it could arrive at the U.S. Supreme Court, long after the current players have graduated.

Northwestern officials are appealing the decision, Hines said. In order for the labor board to hear the appeal, three of its five members must agree to hear it. The appeal is still three to five months away.

Barta addressed many of these concerns and said the conversation should be about student welfare, not student employment.

“I don’t agree that student-athletes are, or should be, employees,” he said.

He said calling students employees could lead to them losing their scholarships based on performance. He maintained comparing student-athletes well employees would lead to unfair expectations — that if they weren’t performing well in their sports, they could be fired.

In light of the ruling, the discussion about the future of student-athletes is especially important.

“It appears that this ruling has caused everyone to pause a bit and reflect on what we’re asking these students to do, and that’s a healthy thing,” said Associate Athletics Director Fred Mims.

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