Ex-Northwestern QB opposes effort to unionize university's athletes

An effort headlined by Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter to unionize athletes at the university doesn't sit well with former Wildcats QB C.J. Bacher.

Bacher was left uneasy by testimony at a National Labor Relations Board hearing from representatives of the newly formed College Athletes Players Assn., which seeks to have the athletes declared employees.

“I felt like the CAPA testimony was pretty unfair to what Northwestern football meant to me,” Bacher said in a phone interview. “They’re raising some good issues that are definitely worth discussing, but the way they’re raising them isn’t right.”

Bacher is one of several former Northwestern football players who have publicly opposed the unionization push, including three who testified in at the hearing, which ended last week.

Bacher, who graduated in 2008 with a master’s degree in communications after starting 28 games, supports NCAA reform. He wants college athletes, for instance, to be able to profit from use of their likenesses.

The problem came with Colter’s testimony that Bacher felt portrayed Coach Pat Fitzgerald as a dictator.

“I was never part of a program where I had more say than at Northwestern,” Bacher said. “That was the big tipping point for me.

“Within the leadership council on the team we were able to have a voice … to influence team policies and decisions. This is not just an attack on Northwestern football, but an attack on all the former players that had a hand in building this.”

Colter hasn’t responded to multiple requests for comment.

Bacher wants to be clear: He doesn’t have a problem with Colter, who is pursuing an NFL career after quarterbacking Northwestern last fall. But Bacher doesn't feel Northwestern is the correct target for those advocating broad-based reform in college athletics. If anything, he sees the university as one of few able to strike the appropriate balance in the tangled world of academics and athletics.

Bacher and he and his teammates were able to pick the majors they wanted. He said the extra time they invested in training for football outside of the NCAA’s weekly limit was their decision. The life was demanding, Bacher said, but the extent of that toll was an individual choice.

“At a certain point, it came to be that [Colter] had to make a decision to back off or go all-in,” said Bacher, who said he wasn’t asked to discuss the situation by anyone associated with the university. “This is definitely more complex than him getting on the stand and testifying against Northwestern.”

Legitimate issues, Bacher said, exist in the NCAA but not at Northwestern. He said he wants to see change at the national level, not in the NLRB case, which is expected to be decided next month.


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