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Jan 28, 2014 12:46 PM EST

Northwestern Football Players Begin Movement to Unionize NCAA Student-Athletes

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They may not be paid for playing on the field, but a group of student-athletes want representation from a labor union.

ESPN's "Outside the Lines" reported that, for the first time in the history of college sports, student-athletes are making moves to unionize and be recognized as "employees." On behalf of the Northwestern University football team, National College Players Association (NCPA) president Ramogi Huma filed a petition at the National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB) regional office in Chicago.

"This is about finally giving college athletes a seat at the table," Huma, a former UCLA linebacker and NCPA founder, told OTL. "Athletes deserve an equal voice when it comes to their physical, academic and financial protections."

The NLRB is a federal body that recognizes groups that may seek collective bargaining rights. Huma formed the NCPA in 2001 as an advocacy group for he and his fellow college athletes.

He told OTL Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter first approached him with the idea last spring. Colter wanted a union for college athletes so they could try and improve conditions under which they play sports and help earn money for their school and for the NCAA.

"The action we're taking isn't because of any mistreatment by Northwestern," Colter said. "We love Northwestern. The school is just playing by the rules of their governing body, the NCAA. We're interested in trying to help all players - at USC, Stanford, Oklahoma State, everywhere. It's about protecting them and future generations to come."

At the national NCAA convention, president Mark Emmert and the leaders of the Division I power conferences (SEC, Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12 and Big 12) are reportedly discussing ways to give more legislative power to athletic directors and conference heads. The "legislative autonomy" would allow conference and athletic department leaders to make decisions like provide certain benefits and stipends for players. However, some student-athletes have said they feel unrepresented in those discussions.

"Right now the NCAA is like a dictatorship," Colter told OTL. "No one represents us in negotiations. The only way things are going to change is if players have a union."

The United Steelworker's union has provided technical support for the NCAP's movement to unionize college sports. The group's political director and a liaison to the NCAP, Tim Waters, said the NCAA's "greed" brought this movement upon themselves.

"The NCAA is a train wreck waiting to happen," Waters told OTL. "What brought them to this moment is they couldn't control their greed. They put all this money in the system."

The NCAA is also in the midst of a lawsuit with former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon, who is suing for compensation after he saw his name, image and likeness being used in a video game without his consent.

The outcome, should O'Bannon win, would do even more to change the landscape of college sports.

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