Northwestern calls three former players on final day of NLRB hearing

Rohan Nadkarni, Reporter

Witness testimony in the hearing pitting Northwestern against the College Athletes Players Association ended Tuesday.

NU lawyers called three of the school’s former players to the stand in a final attempt to bolster the University’s case. At the close of the hearing, hearing officer Joyce Hofstra granted each side 14 days to file briefs with the National Labor Relations Board to supplement their arguments.

Tuesday’s proceedings began with Doug Bartels, a former offensive lineman who played for the program from 2007-2011. Bartels, currently in medical school at Rush University, testified he was able to complete all his premedical courses in four years before earning a master’s degree. His testimony directly contradicted former Wildcats’ quarterback Kain Colter, who said last week at the hearing that football prevented him from taking all of his required premed courses.

Following Bartels was former long snapper John Henry Pace. Both Pace and Bartels testified they were never explicitly told scholarships could be removed if they skipped football activities. CAPA had been attempting to prove the point throughout the trial that, similar to an employee being fired for poor performance, scholarships can be revoked for failure to meet football requirements at the coach’s discretion.

Pace, an engineer with Ford Motor Co., gave similar answers to Bartels about his experience at NU, emphasizing football never intruded on his academic career. 

The final witness called in the case was former offensive lineman Pat Ward. Ward, who currently works for Boeing Co., graduated with a 3.94 GPA and a degree in mechanical engineering.

Ward testified he was able to fit academics into his free time by diligently organizing his time. Ward also said walk-on players were treated the same as those under scholarships, and he often studied for class on the way to road games. Colter had testified studying time on the bus was restricted due to activities such as a gameplan test.

The case, once all briefs are filed, will move to the regional director of the Chicago NLRB. His ruling is expected to be appealed to the board’s national headquarters by whichever side loses. In a news conference after Tuesday’s hearing, United Steelworkers Union political director Tim Waters said he expects the case to be decided in Washington, D.C., as opposed to Chicago.

As for the testimony, much has been made of the combative nature of the case, particularly once coach Pat Fitzgerald took the stand to testify in response to the current players on his team. When asked what example it set for  coaches and administrators to testify against current students, University spokesman Al Cubbage said he “disagreed” with the notion that the two sides were against each other.

An initial ruling in the case is not expected until early April.

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