Despite several veterans on Northwestern's football team saying they are inclined to vote against unionization, the leader of the group helping to organize the players told ESPN on Monday that he remains hopeful the team will achieve the necessary majority vote.
"The reasons they signed the union cards are as valid as ever," said Ramogi Huma, president of the College Athletes Players Association. "I'm still optimistic. When these guys signed up, an overwhelming majority of them did so."
On Saturday, coach Pat Fitzgerald campaigned against the union, telling reporters that the program can give players whatever they need without a union. Those comments came three days after Fitzgerald met with the team and sent a letter to parents outlining his concerns.
On Sunday, NCAA president Mark Emmert joined with more strident language. He told a Final Four news conference that the unionization of college athletes is a "grossly inappropriate" solution in helping them gain the medical and other benefits they seek. He said it would "blow up everything about the collegiate model of athletics," which vests all power in the universities.
When approached by reporters after Fitzgerald's comments, several players declined to say how they would vote. However, quarterback Trevor Siemian, tailback Venric Mark, center Brandon Vitabile and receiver Kyle Prater said they are not in favor of unionization. CAPA needs 50.1 percent of the 76 eligible voters -- those players with remaining NCAA eligibility -- in a Sept. 25 election to be certified to represent the players.
At Northwestern, the union effort is led by former quarterback Kain Colter, who, although still enrolled as a student, cannot vote because his playing eligibility has expired. Asked if Colter talked to his former teammates over the weekend, Huma said, "We've been in contact with the guys. We're going to maintain contact through the vote."
While Fitzgerald and Emmert hit the media over the weekend, Huma and Colter avoided the spotlight.
"We're not doing much media or going into details [about their efforts]," Huma said. "We have the choice of focusing on the media or focusing on the vote, and we're focusing on the vote."
Huma is also president of the National College Players Association, an advocacy group he formed in 2001 whose platform has formed the base of the arguments made by him, Colter and other players on the team in favor of unionization.
However, Huma also noted that if the players at Northwestern vote to unionize, they don't have to necessarily adopt the NCPA's platform that focuses on health and safety, educational trust funds and scholarships up to the cost of attendance. They can do as much or as little with the power they choose to acquire via unionization, including nothing at all.
"These [NCPA platform points] are ideas, and the players at Northwestern can choose to consider them or not," he said. "They are free to pursue their own agenda."
Colter said last week that he hopes the team votes to unionize for future generations of players.
Huma declined comment on Fitzgerald's comments as well as a report that the program recently provided players with iPads as well as state-of-the-art helmets. "I'll leave that to the lawyers," Huma said, when asked if the equipment violates union campaigning rules.
The program said the equipment was unrelated to the upcoming vote.