Schill, NU administrators talk collegiate athletics at Faculty Assembly


Daily file photo by Angeli Mittal

The Arch. At Monday’s webinar, University President Michael Schill updated NU faculty regarding the University’s plans to rebuild Ryan Field.

Pavan Acharya, Print Managing Editor

University President Michael Schill and administrators involved in athletics at Northwestern discussed name, image and likeness policy; recent shifts in the college athletics landscape and the Rebuild Ryan Field project during Monday’s Faculty Assembly meeting. 

Faculty Senate President and Medill Prof. Ceci Rodgers moderated the webinar. Rodgers asked Schill and a panel of five individuals involved in NU athletic questions submitted by faculty members prior to the meeting’s start.

One question asked about a complaint the National Labor Relations Board filed toward the University of Southern California, the Pac-12 Conference and the NCAA on Thursday. The complaint alleges that the institutions have been breaking the law by “misclassifying” USC college athletes in basketball and football as student athletes rather than employees.

Schill said he anticipates the grievance could be brought to the U.S. Supreme Court. In June 2021, the court unanimously ruled in NCAA v. Alston that the athletic association’s rules restricting certain education-related benefits for student athletes violated antitrust laws.

“Given the current negative view of the Supreme Court toward the NCAA that was reflected in the (NCAA v. Alston) opinion, it is very possible that they will side with those who are seeking to characterize students as employees,” said Schill, who is also a professor at the Pritzker School of Law. 

Schill, who previously served as chair of the Pac-12 CEO Group and on the Board of Governors for the NCAA, said if the Supreme Court rules against the athletic association in a future case involving the NLRB, he anticipates student athletes would unionize and bargain for wages. 

If the University directly distributed payments to student athletes, he said, there would be less overall revenue for NU athletics as a whole. 

Derrick Gragg, NU’s athletic director, said the NLRB situation makes him “very nervous.” He said NU believes in “broad-based sports programming,” but supporting 19 sports programs becomes more complicated if student athletes get paid wages.

Gragg also questioned whether NU athletes would be required to attend class if they were classified as employees instead of student athletes.

“I’m kind of distressed by this and just hope that we can continue to say that our student athletes are students,” he said.

When discussing NIL during the meeting, Kristina Minor, associate athletics director for compliance and regulatory affairs, said the focus of NU’s NIL program is to provide resources, support and education for all student athletes. 

“It’s part and parcel of my job to create or find solutions that ensure all of our student athletes have the right resources to maximize their opportunities,” she said.

Minor said an athlete on NU’s field hockey team holds the record for having the highest-valued individual NIL deal at the University. The field hockey team is also the only full team at NU to have a NIL-related deal, she added.

At the assembly, Schill and the panelists also discussed UCLA and USC joining the Big Ten Conference. The two schools will enter the Big Ten in August 2024.

Schill said he is “not really thrilled” with the inclusion of UCLA and USC in the Big Ten. While he remains “skeptical about the initial decision,” he believes adding more West Coast teams to the Big Ten, in addition to UCLA and USC, could result in less overall travel time for all teams in the conference. 

Schill also provided an update regarding NU’s plans to rebuild Ryan Field. 

He said the current stadium is an “outdated, obsolete eyesore” that would cost the University between $250 and $300 million to renovate. But with financial support from the Ryan family, completely rebuilding the venue would cost the same if not less than renovating, he said. 

Schill said NU is working with the Ryan family to determine a final gift agreement. The family donated $480 million to the University in September 2022, with some funds set aside for the Ryan Field redevelopment.

University administrators have advocated for the proposed Ryan Field rebuild plan since it was announced last September. But some Evanston organizations and residents — including those who live in the 7th Ward, where Ryan Field is located — have criticized the project for noise and traffic disturbances the stadium may cause. 

NU is currently looking to obtain a planned development for construction, a liquor license and a zoning text amendment from Evanston’s City Council to allow full-capacity concerts at the site. In March, councilmembers said they would prioritize listening to resident feedback when considering how they would proceed with the Rebuild Ryan Field project.

“We expect that the approval will come, assuming it does come in July of this year,” Schill said. “It’s hoped that if all goes as planned, the stadium will be opened in 2026.”

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