NORTHERN EXPOSURE: Is a CFB players strike on the horizon?

Mark Blaudschun

The first move came in the middle of another week of chaos in the Rutgers football program, which had produced an 0-4 start and the dismissal of head coach Chris Ash following a 52-0 loss to Michigan.

Starting quarterback Art Sitkowski informed interim head coach Nunzio Campanile that he wanted to be redshirted for the rest of the season and not play in last Saturday's game against Maryland.

On game day, junior running back Raheem Blackshear, one of the Scarlet Knights' captains, told Campanile, who had been inserted into the head coaching slot after Rutgers' athletic director Patrick Hobbs fired Ash last Sunday, that he also wanted to use his redshirt option, which allows players to sit out for a season without losing a year of eligibility, as long as they don't play in more than 4 games.

Campanile, who had never been a coordinator, much less a head college coach, could only deal with what we had, which turned into another Rutgers embarrassment--a 49-7 loss to a Maryland team which was coming off a 59-0 loss to Penn State.

When asked about the loss of his starting QB and co-captain, Campanile said, ""Am I disappointed? Incredibly. Do I understand it. I guess so. I guess this is the way the world is now.''

What it was was the latest example in the wide world of college football that the players are--to paraphrase Peter Finch's character in the movie Network-"mad as hell and not going to take it anymore''--at least not without some extra compensation or voice in their career.

The "Pay for Play'' ruling in California, which allows players to be compensated for the use of their likeness by colleges, is picking up momentum and is one tsunami which is forming.

Another trend is for NFL-quality players shortening their college careers to prepare for the National Football League by sitting out bowl games and even regular season games.

The NCAA has tried to counter some of that, most significantly expanding the red shirt rule from one to four games a player can play in any season without losing a season of eligibility.

Not surprisingly, college coaches quickly found a way to use that rule to their advantage.

A few weeks ago new Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen, after analyzing the Cougars 1-3 start, announced that his starting QB and leading wide receiver would be redshirted for the remainder of a season, a move made so he could stockpile some talent for next season when Holgorsen would have more control of his program.

Holgorsen admitted he knew what he was doing was violating the intent of the rule, but he really didn't care.

Ironically, Holgorsen, who came to Houston from West Virginia, was on the other end of the spectrum a year earlier, when his starting QB Will Greer announced he was passing up the Mountaineers' bowl game against Syracuse to prepare for the NFL draft.

Greer than violated the spirit of that decision by playing in the Senior Bowl--an injury risk opportunity, which had prompted him to pass up the Bowl game against Syracuse--a game which the Mountaineers, without their star QB, were soundly beaten.

And now we have the Rutgers' sitdown, which raises questions about loyalty to teammates and leadership roles--Blackshear was a captain of a team which was in total chaos and he chose to walk away.

This is a slippery slope issue where questions of character as much as talent come into play. Do you really want to have a "captain'' who will walk out at the first sign of adversity?

What is the "price' of a winning program, when a coach will remove his best options to win less than midway through a season?

How fair is that to the fans who support the team? To the student body? What kind of message is " I understand the rule, but I'm going to break it and not get punished.''

All of these things are signs that the athletes are exerting their will more in a sport which has long been ruled with a "We're the adults and you are the kids'' mentality and "we know what is best for you and just keep quiet.''

Which begs another question?

What's next?

A player walk out strike if they don't like the way the administration or coaching staff is treating them or disagree with a decision?

Sound far fetched?

It wasn't that long ago (2015) that a group of black players from the University of Missouri , upset by a series of racial incidents on campus, threatened to strike unless Mizu president Tim Wolfe resigned.

It didn't come to a strike, but it was a clear sign of what the growing power felt by college athletes.

A year before that, several Northwestern football players filed paperwork with the National Labor Relations Board in an attempt to form a union.

That issue was also resolved without a union being formed.

The debate about how to compensate college athletics in addition to full scholarships had been ongoing for years, without a proposal that satisfies either side.

Colleges are spending millions of dollars in facilities and amenities, which gives players, who have been pampered and courted for years, to have an even greater sense of entitlement.

But we now live in an era, where coaches are being paid movie star salaries and schools are taking in 10s of millions of dollars each year because of big-time television contract and the compensation flow back to the athletes is a mere trickle.

Changes are coming, but it is also becoming clearer that the athletes want to speed up the process to a point.

What the next major move will be is anyone's guess, but it is coming.

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A player who willfully quits on his team, should never be on another football field. A coach that throws in the towel, on the season, like Holgorsen, should never coach again. Many of these players have no business, on a college campus- after seeing the videos of that lowlife loser from Tennessee, last week, and knowing college football has many more guys, like that, makes me think that even giving them a scholarship is more than most deserve. If a scholarship isn't enough, then screw 'em, they can work at the car wash, or Popeyes, if they're lucky. To be given a scholarship to educate yourself and play college football, and enjoy and experience the excitement and opportunities that offers you, should be enough for all players/students.

Mark Blaudschun