Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Two weeks ago, a group of Northwestern University football players began a movement to become the first U.S. college athletes to unionize, which, if successful, could change the course of modern college athletics as we know it.
The movement was kicked off by Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter, who teamed with former UCLA linebacker Ramogi Huma, now the president of the National College Players Association. Together, they started the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA), a labor union.
The organization filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board, asking for an election to be held so Colter and his teammates can vote on whether they want union representation. The board will hold a preliminary hearing regarding the subject this month.
Colter's concern isn't the fact that college athletes should be paid for their work and contribution to the school and the NCAA. His main concern, and the CAPA's focus, is getting medical coverage to college athletes for sports- related injuries. The NCAA's medical policy doesn't cover athletes who experience ailments that persist after college.
And really, why shouldn't college athletes receive medical coverage for injuries after they graduate?
Thousands and thousands of students compete at the collegiate level, yet only a fraction of those athletes go professional in the sport for which they receive tuition from a university. That means a majority of those athletes will go pro in something else (their respective fields of study, perhaps?), and if injuries persist into the workplace and could possibly hinder their performance, that can negatively affect their careers.
College football is a lot like the NFL, where concussions and resonating symptoms may last for years. Just because these athletes aren't professional doesn't mean the threat of serious injury is any less prevalent.
These players are simply looking for assurance that later in life they won't be plagued with a stack of medical bills that can't be paid.
"The same medical issues that professional athletes face are the same medical issues collegiate athletes face, except we are left unprotected," Colter said. "These injustices occur in the NCAA because student-athletes don't have a voice. They don't have a seat at the table. The current model resembles a dictatorship."
With the amount of revenue college athletics generates, it seems plausible to think that at least a little can be forked over for means such as this. Federal reports showed that college football turned in a profit of $1.3 billion in the 2012-13 academic year, and men's basketball a profit of over $334 million in that same time.
The union wouldn't be created in an attempt to professionalize athletes who are also full-time students, which might be misconstrued by some when the term "labor union" comes into play.
College athletes get paid to go to school in the form of athletic scholarships. Colter told ESPN that if, for example, an athlete gets hurt and can't play, that scholarship could be in jeopardy of being lifted or reduced. That could subsequently put the athlete's education in jeopardy if he or she can't afford school.
The NCAA wasn't so keen on the idea because, according to chief legal officer Donald Remy, a union might send the wrong message and take away from the original purpose of college, which is to get an education.
"This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education," Remy said in a statement. "Student- athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize."
Except athletics has nothing to do with education. The athletes go to school at a specific institution because that's the college or university giving them the money. Their performance on the field doesn't directly affect their academic success.
And is it really voluntary for everyone? Athletics can give some people the opportunity to go to college who might not be able to afford it otherwise. Should those players get injured and require medical attention after college, if necessary, will they be able to afford that?
Colter may have said it best in a statement issued by the CAPA regarding those around college athletics, but not the ones putting the jerseys on and serving as the real attraction that brings in the revenue.
"How can they call this amateur athletics when our jerseys are sold in stores and the money we generate turns coaches and commissioners into multi- millionaires?" he said.
These players aren't asking to get paid on the side of a scholarship, and they're not seeking benefits unrelated to their well-being. With their futures in mind, a college football union might be an idea worth giving a shot.