Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, February 21, 2014

There is a movement afoot to unionize Northwestern football players, with on-going hearings taking place on the subject in Chicago.

The NU players are being supported by the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA). And former Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter is spearheading the cause, having already testified before the National Labor Relations Board. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald testified today.

I talked to BTN analyst Gerry DiNardo-a former head coach at Vanderbilt, LSU and Indiana–about the unionization effort.

[ MORE: Dienhart: Football player union case worth watching ]

Here is DiNardo in his own words (read more on his Twitter timeline, @gerrydinardo):

  • I think it?s sad that a group of student-athletes says it feels more like employees than students. It just seems so far away from what the experience should be. I don?t think that they are employees. That mind-set is sad for me. I don?t think the courts will see them as employees, so I don?t think this is going to change anything.
  • I think student-athletes should have a voice. If they don?t, then I?m for changing that. But I think there already are mechanisms in place that give them a voice at the table. A lot of the issues that the union is proposing have been addressed or will be addressed. The union accuses coaches and administrators of not caring about injuries. That?s being addressed. I?ve never heard of athletes having to pay for their own MRIs. That was foreign to me. If that?s going on at any places, it shouldn?t be.
  • As for scholarships, (Big Ten commissioner) Jim Delany has put on the table life-long scholarship for any student-athlete that enters school. I always thought from the beginning that this was about a player or players who have had a negative experience. I never thought it was about reclassifying student-athletes as employees. The history of unions in this country has been to stop abuse and promote fairness. I see very little of that by college football coaches.
  • As for Colter claiming he felt steered to a lesser major, I don?t know about his personal experience and can?t speak to it. But during the recruiting process when I coached, if a kid said he wanted to be a surgeon or engineer, I would explain that it?s a highly ambitious schedule. It?s very noble to pursue. It?s like when an athlete wants to play two sports. You have an obligation in the home (during recruiting) to explain that if you want to be an electrical engineer and want to play football, it?s a great thing to do. I have had some kids do it. But not many of them. A few can do it. We had a couple guys at LSU who became orthopedic surgeons. They are few and far between. The student-athlete has to make that decision himself long before a coach intervenes. I don?t know any coach who would say you can?t go to medical school.
  • If unionization took place, what would happen? I think it would hurt the majority of the players in several ways. If you are an employee, that means I can fire you if you aren?t good enough. We can be fired if our performance is underwhelming. Only a third of your recruiting class ever plays on a regular basis. I think graduation rates would fall desperately. I think there would be non-union schools that would dominate. If I am an elite program, I could open a non-union shop. Instead of paying by the hour or with a scholarship, I could offer $200-300,000 to my quarterback. I could cut my linemen and sign new guys each year. If you?re an employee, you aren?t a student. The academics are no longer relevant to me as a coach. If I am your boss, I?ll treat you like an employee. It has nothing to do with education. I no longer am responsible for your education. You are responsible to me for performance. I am responsible to you for performance reviews. And at which time, if your review is poor, I?m gonna cut you loose.
  • I think the Northwestern players were misled by CAPA and perhaps by Kain Colter. They wanted a voice at the table. And this has not turned into a voice at the table. They already have voices at the table at their schools and in the NCAA. If Northwestern players don?t feel like this is the right way to go, and they signed a petition, they should come out and say they made a mistake and they don?t believe they need to unionize. The players who are backpedalling now, it sounds more like spin to me. It doesn?t sound like they are saying that a line in the sand has been crossed and they don?t want any part of it.
  • If my players called me ?boss man,? which is a negative term, I would be hurt. My heart would be broken and I would feel terrible. I would feel I failed and there is something wrong. This whole thing has been ill-conceived from the start. There is no clear message, no clear mission and no dynamic leadership. It never was clear to the players what was going on. Now that it is clear, I would think the players would come out in strong favor of their coach and school. Not only come out strong for them, but  also disavow what is going on and say they no longer support this thing.
About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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