NLRB: Players' case is 'weak'

CHICAGO -- The officer presiding over the National Labor Relations Board hearing about a bid by Northwestern football players to create the nation's first union for college athletes at one point described the players' case thus far as "weak."

Joyce Hofstra, who has been overseeing the multiday hearing this week, said during a discussion over evidence, "The record is weak on the players' side. We've had testimony from only one player. We have heard nothing on the relationship between the player and the coach."

From a witness stand in a federal court building Tuesday, Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter testified that players adhered to sometimes grueling schedules, putting in 40- to 50-hour weeks on football during and before the season. During August training, he said, players wake at 8 a.m. and often finish practice at 10 p.m.

"It's a job -- there is no way around it, it's a job," said the 21-year-old Colter, who is a senior and whose college career is over. He is expected to be in Indianapolis this week for the NFL combine.

The key question for the NLRB is whether college players qualify as employees; if they do, under U.S. law they would have the right to unionize. The Colter-led bid, which is supported by the United Steelworkers, is seen as a test case that could transform the landscape of college athletics. The NCAA and Big Ten Conference maintain that students are not employees, regardless of their participation in athletics.

Also Thursday, a sports economist took the stand.

Southern Utah University economist David Berri was asked to discuss how the model of college football has changed and become big business. He testified that the NCAA provides "entertainment services" and it is football players who provide that service.

ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.