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The athletic director with the largest budget in the nation said Thursday he doesn't support paying athletes nor a system in which they can market themselves, and doesn't understand the recent quest by some Northwestern football players to unionize.

Steve Patterson, who took over as AD at the University of Texas this past November, told ESPN.com that he listened to the case made by former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, which was backed by the College Athletes Players Association, and it wasn't clear what he was seeking.

PattersonIt's interesting when you look at the objections of the plaintiffs in the case; we address all of them… We do everything that they say they wanted.

- Texas athletic director Steve Patterson

"It's interesting when you look at the objections of the plaintiffs in the case; we address all of them," Patterson said. "If our athletes get hurt, we pay all their medical bills. If they want to come back and graduate, we pay for them to come back and graduate. We do everything that they say they wanted."

Northwestern players, who were found by the National Labor Relations Board last month to be university employees, are set to vote on whether to unionize late next week.

Patterson, who oversees an annual athletic budget of roughly $170 million, said the "whole thing smells of guys in the legal profession looking for a fee."

Patterson directed that comment towards sports labor lawyer Jeff Kessler, who last month filed an antitrust claim against the NCAA and the five largest conferences in New Jersey federal court, hoping to represent all scholarship players in college basketball and football players.

Kessler is arguing for a more free market in which schools can offer more than a scholarship to win over a player's services.

"Guys like Jeff Kessler are trying to destroy the college system to get a percentage or a fee," Patterson said. "If they do that, they'll be destroying the greatest thing to happen to the college system aside from the G.I. Bill."

Patterson did admit Thursday that he felt the NCAA and the schools were losing the public relations battle.

"The universities, the conferences and the NCAA have done a very poor job of telling our story and we've allowed this story to be created by the sports press to focus on the one-half of 1 percent of the student-athletes that go on to play pro sports. But 99.5 percent of student-athletes would not be in the position they're in without getting a scholarship."

Patterson said that, thanks to scholarships, many are the first in their generation to attend college and that athletic programs contribute greatly in the graduation process.

Patterson said first-generation college students normally graduate at a rate of around 15 percent compared to those in the athlete population who have graduation rates of at least 75 percent due in part to tutors and mentors.

Patterson said he can't envision any system where players can benefit from their value on the free market, including be able to market themselves, sign autographs for compensation and get a percentage of their jersey sales.

"The difficulty in opening up free-market marketing to the half of the 1 percent is that it would create a competitive balance issue," Patterson said. "It would be easy for Booster X to figure out how'd he'd essentially pay a recruit to come to a school."

Northwestern players want union

Kain Colter displayed APU on his uniform to draw attention to the NCPA movement.
(USATSI)Kain Colter displayed APU on his uniform during the season to draw attention to the NCPA movement. (USATSI)
Fowler: Long ignored by NCAA, players ready for a fight Kain Colter and a group of Northwestern players are beginning the process of forming a labor union to represent college athletes.

According to ESPN's Outside the Lines, Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, filed a petition in Chicago on behalf of the players with the National Labor Relations Board.

If the group is certified by the NLRB, it will be called the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA). Huma, Colter and former UMass basketball player Luke Bonner created the group with support from the United Steelworkers. More details, via OTL:

"This is about finally giving college athletes a seat at the table, " said Huma, a former UCLA linebacker, who created the NCPA as an advocacy group in 2001. "Athletes deserve an equal voice when it comes to their physical, academic and financial protections. "

Huma told "Outside The Lines" that the move to unionize players at Northwestern started with quarterback Kain Colter, who reached out to him last spring and asked for help in giving athletes representation in their effort to improve the conditions under which they play NCAA sports. Colter became a leading voice in regular NCPA-organized conference calls among players from around the country.

Huma, Colter and the NCPA organized the "All Players United" movement in the 2013 season that resulted in several players from Northwestern, Georgia and Georgia Tech displaying #APU on their uniforms.

Huma told OTL that the goals of CAPA will be the same as the NCPA; looking for representation in the decision-making process of college athletics to improve conditions for student-athletes. The group has advocated for multi-year scholarships and has called for guaranteed scholarships for players who can no longer compete due to injury or medical issues.

"A lot of people will think this is all about money; it's not, " Colter told the

Chicago Tribune

on Tuesday morning. "We're asking for a seat at the table to get our voice heard. "

 

Colter to Trib on unionizing: “We're not expecting a decision to be made right away. It might.. go all the way to the Supreme Court. ”

— Teddy Greenstein (@TeddyGreenstein) January 28, 2014

 

Leaders of the NCPA and CAPA will hold a press conference Tuesday in downtown Chicago to discuss the petition and unionization efforts.

 

According to NCPAnow. org, the group has 11 specific goals.

1. Minimize college athletes' brain trauma risks.

2. Raise the scholarship amount.

4. Increase graduation rates.

 

5. Protect educational opportunities for student-athletes in good standing.

 

6. Prohibit universities from using a permanent injury suffered during athletics as a reason to reduce/eliminate a scholarship.

7. Establish and enforce uniform safety guidelines in all sports to help prevent serious injuries and avoidable deaths.

8. Eliminate restrictions on legitimate employment and players ability to directly benefit from commercial opportunities.

9. Prohibit the punishment of college athletes that have not committed a violation.

10. Guarantee that college athletes are granted an athletic release from their university if they wish to transfer schools.

11. Allow college athletes of all sports the ability to transfer schools one time without punishment.

Previously, the NCPA flew a banner over the Rose Bowl before the BCS National Championship game that read "All Players United for Concussion Reform. Wake Up NCAA! "

The NCAA responded Tuesday, in a statement from Donald Remy, chief legal officer: "This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education. 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.

"Many student athletes are provided scholarships and many other benefits for their participation. There is no employment relationship between the NCAA, its affiliated institutions or student-athletes.

"Student-athletes are not employees within any definition of the National Labor Relations Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act. We are confident the National Labor Relations Board will find in our favor, as there is no right to organize student-athletes. "

Northwestern subsequently issued its own statement, saying in part: "We are pleased to note that the Northwestern students involved in this effort emphasized that they are not unhappy with the University, the football program or their treatment here, but are raising the concerns because of the importance of these issues nationally.

"Northwestern believes that our student-athletes are not employees and collective bargaining is therefore not the appropriate method to address these concerns. However, we agree that the health and academic issues being raised by our student-athletes and others are important ones that deserve further consideration. "

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