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Pat Fitzgerald is hardly the problem in union issue

Northwestern's Head Coach PFitzgerald during Northwestern spring football practice Lakeside Field Athletic Complex EvanstIll. Saturday April 13 2013. | Andrew

Northwestern's Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald during Northwestern spring football practice at the Lakeside Field Athletic Complex in Evanston, Ill., on Saturday, April 13, 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 10, 2014 10:25PM

Identifying a problem is the easy part. Finding a solution always proves much more difficult.

The problems within the NCAA are unquestioned. Greed has perpetuated a system that allows the organization to fleece its athletes who are generating billions of dollars.

But that doesn’t make unionization a line-in-the-sand issue. You don’t have to be pro-union to be in favor of change. That includes Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald. Asking his players to vote against the union in the hopes of having the university deal with player issues doesn’t mean Fitzgerald is anti-change.

In an issue that has become increasingly unpredictable, it’s irresponsible — particularly for those in favor of changing the NCAA model — to unceremoniously dismiss Fitzgerald’s stance.

There is no silver bullet. No can claim to know the solution.

Consider the pitfalls of unionization. Players in all four major professional sports are represented by unions and each league has suffered from strikes and lockouts.

Should this union pass, collective bargaining might ultimately lead to a strike. During a period of a lockout or strike, the players — or employees — would lose their scholarships. And that would put them behind academically.

If Fitzgerald had not had a history of advocacy for the athlete, his recent statements could seem contrived. The legal eagles certainly are circling Anderson Hall.

But immediately after the NCAA made it optional to offer four-year scholarships, Fitzgerald made the four-year deals his program’s policy.

Consider that in the July 25 Sun-Times story, which has become a linchpin of the case presented by the College Athletes Players Association, Fitzgerald calls playing football a “full-time job” in a interview he conducted regarding Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany’s push for the increase of stipends.

Now, in the wake of criticism levied on the coach, it’s prudent to examine what he said immediately before than comment.

Before the inception of CAPA and in the same July 25 article, he also said: “I’m looking, probably like every coach, to do whatever is right, best for our student-athletes.”

Well, not every coach — that’s the problem.

If that were the case, every coach would offer four-year scholarships and every university’s football program would boast the same graduation rates.

Of course, Northwestern isn’t perfect. They graduate 97 percent of their players.

But Northwestern has been at the forefront of change.

Not everyone has the same agenda. Some coaches only want to be able to offer one-year scholarships so that they can dismiss a player who isn’t performing. And other coaches don’t care about graduation.

Pursuing these issues, which CAPA is justified in doing, isn’t easy. There are opposing agendas in the NCAA — like offensive and defensive lines pushing on one another.

And no one knows which will get up field first.


Twitter: @SethGruen

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