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Apr 02, 2014 11:19 AM EDT

Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald Turns Attention to Football Season: 'That's My Focus... My Team'


Northwestern University head football coach Pat Fitzgerald was put in an interesting position when his players pushed for a union, but now he has no choice but to press on.

One week since the National Labor Rights Board decided in Chicago to allow the Northwestern football team to form a union, Fitzgerald has spoken publicly on his position, ESPN reported. From the start, the coach expressed respect for his players taking a stand, but testified against them in the hearings.

"You know, I think the things that I've said have been clear," Fitzgerald told a group of reporters Tuesday. "So, as I move forward, I'm coaching my football team, and that's my focus."

The school has appealed, but is not expected to win. Still, the Northwestern football team has to wait for the decision to be finalized to hold an election for their union representatives. Fitzgerald is set to be the first head football coach in the NCAA to have student-athletes under a scholarship with eligibility remaining who are considered to be employees.

Regardless of what happens moving forward, Fitzgerald insisted his "outstanding" relationship with his players will not change.

"There's a lot of things that we'll discuss here," Fitzgerald said. "But from a standpoint of the way that we have operated here, I have full confidence in the way that we run our program, and the guys have been terrific and I think they've shown the commitment to the program, so it's no change for us."

Fitzgerald has not spoken with his team at length about the decision, as is the same for many college football teams just beginning spring practices. According to a school spokesman, the athletic department held a meeting Tuesday afternoon, after Fitzgerald's public comments.

Senior running back Venric Mark did not disclose whether or not he signed a union card, but said he does not think the NLRB's ruling will be a distraction this season.

"Guys did sign cards supporting Kain and what he's trying to do and his movement, but at the end of the day, as I stated, everything outside of our locker room is outside of our locker room," Mark told ESPN. "And so some guys signed, some guys didn't. I don't know if people kind of knew what they were going to get into, if they thought it was going to turn out the way it did."

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