Northwestern Coach Counters Employment Argument in Union Case

Northwestern University football coach Patrick Fitzgerald told a labor hearing it’s the program’s job to help students to excel academically, athletically and socially as the school opposes an attempt by players to be considered employees.

The 85 scholarship players are seeking the right to vote on whether to be represented by the College Athletes Players Association in bargaining with the Evanston, Illinois-based school. College athletes aren’t paid, despite generating more than $16 billion in television contracts, as well as revenue from sponsorships, ticket and merchandise sales, and payouts for championships.

“I need to be the best player development leader in the country,” Fitzgerald told yesterday’s hearing. “We want to be the best player development program in the country.”

Fitzgerald spent about three hours on the witness stand at the National Labor Relations Board hearing in Chicago, testifying about recruiting, player schedules and his own experience as a linebacker at Northwestern. Joyce Hofstra, the NLRB hearing officer, said during the proceedings two days ago that the football players so far presented a weak case that they are employees of the school.

The players’ goals include guaranteed coverage of sports-related medical expenses for current and former athletes, and compensation for sponsorships. The group also is seeking to establish a trust fund to help former players complete their degrees and push for an increase in athletic scholarships.

Fitzgerald, who has been coach since 2006, was asked under cross-examination by CAPA attorney Gary Kohlman about a Chicago Sun-Times article last year where he was quoted as saying being a student-athlete is a full-time job.

Fitzgerald said that it is a full-time job “from a responsibility standpoint, yes.”

The hearing is scheduled to resume Feb. 25.

The case is Northwestern University, 13-RC-121359, National Labor Relations Board, Region 13 (Chicago).

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