How are other Big Ten schools handling the tectonic movements set off by the Northwestern football players' unionizing campaign? Very, very cautiously, it seems, to judge by the talking points handed down to Nebraska coaches by an associate athletic director.
We've obtained the email via open-records request (we've sent a similar request to other schools). Written by Pat Logsdon and directed at coaches with whom athletes might broach the topic of unionization, it's a standard CYA memo, done up with the NCAA's standard lip service to the "student" half of the "student-athlete" formulation and the usual concern-trolling over seemingly knotty questions that have actual answers. But the overall message is, Don't say anything to provoke the agitators. It is "important," Logsdon cautions, "that we avoid being critical of unions and unionization."
There's also an FAQ, in case any athletes ask about unionization directly:
- What is UNL's position regarding the initiative by Northwestern players to organize student-athletes? UNL has not taken a formal position. Student-athletes are students and not employees. We support the rights of all students to voice their thoughts including the discussion of union organization.
- How would a favorable ruling supporting the Northwestern players impact UNL Athletics? UNL is not subject to the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board. Any union organizing activity in Nebraska must go through the Nebraska Commission of Industrial Relations, the state agency that resolves public sector labor disputes. See http://www.ncir.ne.gov/.
- Is a student-athlete permitted to discuss this situation with their coach or advisor? Student-athletes are free to discuss their thoughts with any member of the Athletics Department or through SAAC.
- Can there be any repercussions regarding a student-athlete's scholarship or eligibility for participating in any union activities? No.
These are tricky times for the bosses of college sports. On the front lines, we have Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald's campaign against his players' unionizing efforts. The more he exercises his NLRB-protected rights as an employer to speak his piece against unions, the more he clarifies the power dynamic undergirding all player-coach relationships, the more he puts the lie to the notion, extant elsewhere across college sports and mocked by the likes of The Daily Show, that coaches aren't employers in the least. So it's understandable when, in another email, athletic director Shawn Eichorst writes, "FYI... Please remember not to make any comments about this matter."