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NU athletic director Jim Phillips looking to be agent of change

Northwestern University Athletic Director Jim Phillips left listens Chris Collins  after Phillips named Collins as new men's head basketball

Northwestern University Athletic Director Jim Phillips, left, listens to Chris Collins after Phillips named Collins as the new men's head basketball coach during a news conference Tuesday, April 2, 2013 in Evanston, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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Updated: May 16, 2014 11:28PM

Northwestern athletic director
Jim Phillips opposes only one thing on the College Athletes Players Association’s agenda: the unionization of the Wildcats’ scholarship football players.

The list of issues Phillips and CAPA agree on is more exhaustive, and he isn’t just nodding his head for show. He thinks he has a way to move the needle.

At the Big Ten meetings Tuesday at the league office in Rosemont, Phillips suggested giving student-athletes a vote within the NCAA.

‘‘The governance structure has to change,’’ Phillips said in his first public comments on unionization. ‘‘We’re getting close to having that, and it needs to be represented with a student-athlete voice. We don’t need student-athletes in an advisory role; we need them in a voting role. That’s something that we have to do moving forward.’’

Phillips is as firm in his opinion about changing the NCAA’s governance model as he is in his opposition to the unionization of NU’s football players. In his mind, if players have a vote, there will be no need for a third-party negotiator.

But there’s reason to question
whether that can be accomplished. Past attempts at reform have gone nowhere because of opposing agendas that have left the NCAA clinging to the status quo. In championing change, Phillips will have to break through that stalemate.

Whether Wildcats football players will be permitted to unionize, a question pending before the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, CAPA already has been successful in bringing key
issues to the fore. It’s fair to credit the organization (partially, at least) for the NCAA’s recent decision to allow universities to provide student-athletes with unlimited meal plans. That wasn’t the case before.

So CAPA might provide Phillips, the incoming president of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, with the fuel he needs.

‘‘I know [unionization] is not the right mechanism for change nationally, but areas of welfare and health and safety, those are the right kinds of things for us to be talking about,’’ Phillips said. ‘‘So I think there’s some really good and positive residual that’s occurred from the conversation about unionization.’’


Twitter: @SethGruen

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