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CAPA making strides, but unionization proving to be slippery

Northwestern quarterback KaColter second from left speaks while College Athletes Players AssociatiPresident Ramogi Humleft United Steelworkers uniofficial Tim Waters second

Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, second from left, speaks while College Athletes Players Association President Ramogi Huma left, United Steelworkers union official Tim Waters, second from right, and Steelworkers President Leo Gerard listen during a news conference in Chicago, Tuesday, Jan., 28, 2014. Football players at Northwestern University are forming what they say is a first-of-its-kind union for college athletes. Wildcat quarterback Kain Coulter joined union leaders at the press conference to announce the creation of the College Athletes Players Association. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

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Updated: February 19, 2014 11:08PM



If the College Athletes Players Association hearing at the National Labor Relations Board were a football game, it could be said that CAPA tied it up on Wednesday after trailing big heading into the day.

But the better question is probably whether they’re playing in the right arena?

Attorneys for Northwestern and CAPA quibbled Wednesday, at times, each objecting by the sentence. It was all in attempt to fit what is a broad issue in the very narrow scope of labor law.

The issue to be determined is whether Northwestern’s football players should be recognized as a union. The university says it can’t be negotiated with because its part of the NCAA.

CAPA attorneys adeptly were able to prove that while Northwestern abides by the governing bylaws of the NCAA, the university has elected to be part of that institution.

Unfortunately for CAPA, that may not matter.

If Northwestern withdrew from the NCAA, the university wouldn’t have to adhere to its regulations. But it also wouldn’t make any money off athletics. So the point brought before the National Labor Relations Board would be moot.

Possibly their greatest asset in arguing this case, was CAPA’s ability to demonstrate that athletic performance is tied to an athlete fulfilling obligations to the football team. It remains to be argued what constitutes obligated and voluntary activities.

Brian Baptiste, the associate athletic director for compliance at Northwestern, stated in testimony on Wednesday that travel to games is voluntary activity.

Why? Because it is not considered “Countable Athletic Related Activity (CARA)” according to the NCAA. In season, teams are allowed 20 CARA hours per week which includes practice, workouts, meetings and other activities.

But it also doesn’t include certain necessary elements of competition like travel to games or medical treatment. Through the lens of compliance Baptiste is right. Realistically, though, it’s one of many loopholes provided to universities by the NCAA.

For CAPA lawyers, it’s like nailing Jell-O to the wall.

But remember reality doesn’t dictate in proceedings like this. What matters is the law. The law doesn’t get to read between the lines. So any negative outcome for CAPA isn’t a detriment to its philosophy, only to its case.

Here’s a guarantee: CAPA will not end at the National Labor Relations Board. But is that where it will begin?

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SethGruen



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