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Pat Fitzgerald recommends his players vote against unionizing

Northwestern players will make college athletics history, one way or another, on April 25 when they hold a formal vote whether or not to unionize the Wildcats' football program. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has made his recommendation to the players - and he wants them to vote it down.

"I believe it's in their best interests to vote no," Fitzgerald said Saturday. "With the research that I've done, I'm going to stick to the facts and I'm going to do everything in my power to educate our guys. Our university is going to do that. We'll give them all the resources they need to get the facts."

Fitzgerald, as the first head coach to face this issue head-on, is in a very precarious position. He is not allowed to interrogate players about their voting plans, and he also can not make promises in exchange for a vote against unionization. 

It is worth noting, though, that with many of the issues College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) is pushing for through Northwestern football - the extension of medical benefits beyond players' time on campus, larger coverage scholarships, control over players' likeness - the Big Five conferences, of which Northwestern is a member, are already looking to cover for their student-athletes.

"I just do not believe we need a third party between our players and our coaches, staff and administrators. ... Whatever they need, we will get them," Fitzgerald said.

No one is exactly sure what will happen when the issue goes to a vote later this month, but many think players will vote it down. It has been speculated that, should players win the right to classify themselves as employees, their scholarships would then be deemed salary and, thus, become taxable income. At a private school with most of the roster hailing from out of state, that could be a significant expense, which may be part of the reason why Northwestern some players have indicated their displeasure with the movement. 

"Things do need to change, and I hope the NCAA sees that," senior running back Venric Mark said. "But at the end of the day, Northwestern treats us very well, and we do not need a third party to come in between us and the coaches."

Our guess here is that the vast majority of coaches support Fitzgerald on this issue while simultaneously hoping a unionization debate never travels to their campus. For those coaches, there is no better role model for this unprecedented situation than Pat Fitzgerald. 

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