5 Things I Think – Offseason (Part 2)

With only 22 spring games left, we’re almost at a point at which there will be little college football left to be discussed until the fall. We’ll have the NFL Draft (May 8-10), one of my favorite days of the year, as I’ve always considered it a perfect mixture of a college and professional football. I was wrong last week in predicting that Alabama and Auburn would beat Penn State’s 72,000 spring game attendance mark. I was sure they’d be numbers one and two in some order. Alabama had a turnout of 73,506, lowest in Saban’s tenure in Tuscaloosa, while Auburn had a turnout of 70,645. I think the relatively low turnouts were partly attributed to them falling on Easter weekend.
Let’s see what else is going on.

1. Player Unionization. Current Northwestern players vote on whether they will unionize on Friday (4/25/14). Northwestern staff seems to be attempting to steer them into a “no” vote. Coach Fitzgerald, although he has voiced that he is against it, has made a statement that he will not resign should the players vote yes. Starting quarterback Trevor Siemian is against unionization; I wonder if that will sway the vote. I also wonder if the vote results in a union, if that will impact the cohesiveness of the team. Regardless of Friday’s vote, Northwestern will continue to pursue its appeal of the regional NLRB’s ruling that Northwestern football players have the right to form a union. The result of that appeal could potentially have ramifications on the future of college athletics; however a few things need to be made clear. Firstly, even if upheld, this ruling currently only applies to Northwestern. Secondly, it only applies to their football team. When considering the possibility of a union for other football programs, one has to be aware of things like private vs. public schools (NU is a private institution), right-to-work states, and possible tax implications for the athletes.

2. Payment of Players. While it should be made clear that Colter and Co.’s goal, at least in the short-term, in opening the door for possible unionization of college athletes, is not for players to be paid. Their goal is to allow players to negotiate things like medical benefits (particularly once their eligibility has expired), concussion studies, and players’ rights in terms of scholarships and transfers. He wanted the students to have a voice. The Ed O’Bannon case will go to trial on June 9th and it seems to be the biggest threat to the NCAA’s ridiculous grasp onto the claim of amateurism (their knuckles are so white from that grasp because amateurism is what allows them to take advantage of an anti-trust tax break. I’m not going to go into my opinion on the whole pay-for-play debate, or whether players should be able to make money from use of their likeness, as that could be an article all on its own. However, I want to point out that on some level, players are getting paid already – and I’m not referring to scholarships. One would have to be naïve to disagree. Money is what makes college football go, especially in terms of recruiting. Steven Godfrey of SB Nation wrote a fantastic piece about “bag men” this week (a long read, but worth it). The piece focuses on the SEC, but only because the “bag man” he was interviewing happened to be associated in the SEC. I have absolutely no doubt there are bag men in every conference and nearly every major program – in fact I’m certain there are some in Division II as well.

3. Transfer rules need reform. The Leadership Council has proposed a change to the hardship waiver transfer policy. Currently, if a player is granted a hardship transfer waiver (“as a result of difficult life or family circumstances”) they don’t have to sit out a year before playing for new team. This proposal would change that to eliminate the ability to play right away, but instead grant that player an additional year of eligibility on the back end of the player’s career. The new rule would seemingly make a hardship transfer no different than a run-of-the-mill transfer. I understand the NCAA is trying to avoid players taking advantage of this rule to circumvent the requirement to sit out a year, but I think there are other aspects of player transfers that need the attention more than this one. For example, if a coach is fired or leaves (which, they can freely do with no hindrances), a player should be able to transfer. I know the NCAA’s stance is that players should go to a school because of the school and not the coach, but that’s simply not reality. Otherwise, there would be no recruiting of players because they would all simply choose a school based on their own research, or knowledge, or fandom, and there would be no need to interact with coaches or players. A school certainly shouldn’t be able to refuse a player’s transfer, or hold it hostage, as in the case of Kansas State women’s basketball player Leticia Romero. KSU rejected her request for a transfer, which she wanted after Coach Deb Patterson was fired. “NCAA rules dictate that transfers must sit out a year before they can play at a new school, but they are only allowed to immediately receive financial aid if their previous school approves of the transfer by granting a scholarship release”. I also don’t think a school should be able to dictate to which schools a player can and cannot transfer. Often times, a school will make these kinds of restrictions, such as the player cannot transfer to another team within the current team’s conference. However, often times the restricted teams are beyond the conference and are seemingly at the coach’s discretion. I think if the kid has to sit out a year, he (or she) should be able to go wherever he (or she) wants.

4. From Crimson Tide to Buckeyes. Speaking of transfers, Chad Lindsay has decided to transfer from the University of Alabama to The Ohio State University. He has graduated and will therefore be eligible to play right away. Lindsay started four games last season and played in eight. Given that the Buckeyes only have to positions on the offensive line locked up, Lindsay will be a welcome addition, especially after Meyer made it clear after the spring game that offensive line is a big concern of his. Living in Alabama, having a lot of friends and family who are Alabama fans, I am conflicted about Lindsay’s transfer. He’s a Buckeye now, and I accept him as such, but I know I’ll have to endure some razzing if the Buckeyes do well this year. “All you guys needed was an Alabama player”, they’ll say. “All Alabama needed was a former Buckeyes assistant as a head coach”, I suppose I’ll have to reply. It’s all in good fun, of course.

5. “Joe’s Bench”. In 2012, Penn State took down the famous statue of Joe Paterno that stood on the east side of Beaver Stadium in response to outcry from some that it should be removed due to his alleged actions (or inaction) regarding the Jerry Sandusky allegations. I disagreed with the removal of the statue, but I understood the public relations part of the decision. This week it was announced that a group plans to erect a statue outside of Tavern Restaurant in State College some time in 2015. It is reported that Paterno will be seated on a bench reading a copy of “Aeneid”. The statue is currently called “Joe’s Bench”. “This project is to portray the Joe Paterno we know. He was a very approachable person, who would be seen walking downtown, in stores, and standing on the street talking to passersby. Sitting on the bench with Joe will allow us to reflect on where we have been, where we are, and where we are going. A time to capture the small town feel, remembering our roots, and those who paved the way for us.” I’m sure there will be some backlash from some, but I like the gesture and I hope it comes to fruition. It isn’t associated with the university, or football, it simply seems to be paying tribute to the impact Paterno had on the small community of State College, PA.


  1. Just an FYI Illinois isn’t a “Right to Work” State. The transfer debate is one that should be reformed and I agree with you about if coaches leave by termination or to pursue other opportunities but it is a slippery slope. Seems the NCAA doesn’t want any kids to “take advantage” of current rules while they take advantage of the talent that represents them allowing the NCAA pockets to get fatter, seems hypocrisy is the rule of the college landscape more and more.

  2. It has been interesting to see several Northwestern players coming out to say they dont want or need a Union. I honestly expected them to all show a united front in going full union. Wouldnt it be hilarious if after all this drama they turned the union down and didnt join.

  3. Shannon, I agree that Illinois isn’t a “Right-to-Work” state, but I wasn’t saying that it was. I was simply saying that right-to-work scenarios will need to be considerations for any other schools who would want to pursue unionization.

    Jeremiah, I’m not sure hilarity would be how I would characterize it. Even if they vote “no”, it would not be the end of this especially if the ruling is upheld in the appeal. We have to keep in mind that the people who strove for the right to form a union did so knowing they wouldn’t have the opportunity to do it themselves should they win that right. If the appeal is upheld, one can be sure another school (probably also a private school) will pursue the same thing, if for no other reason to keep the pressure on the NCAA to continue their reform efforts.

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