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INDIANAPOLIS — The National Labor Relations Board ruled Wednesday that Northwestern University’s athletes have the right to vote to unionize.
A day later, coaches at the NCAA tournament’s Midwest Regional at Lucas Oil Stadium were reluctant to comment on the prospect of what could pave the way for reform in college athletics.
“I’ve thought very little about this, as you can imagine,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “This is probably not the right forum for me to answer that because I have heard a little bit about it.
“We’re a big proponent of student athlete welfare, and I think if anything that there can be more discussion is healthy for everyone.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari was succinct in giving his opinion — or lack thereof — on the ruling.
“The first question has nothing to do with this game, so I’ll leave it alone,” he said.
The athletes, as well, pled ignorance on the issue.
“I didn’t even hear of that,” Michigan guard Nik Stauskas said. “I don’t even know what that’s about, so I can’t really comment on that.”
Stauskas’ teammate, Jordan Morgan, also did not elaborate.
“As far as forming a union, I’m not really sure what implications that has on how that affects student‑athletes really,” Morgan said. “I haven’t really done a lot of looking into it.”
The NLRB ruling applies only to private universities; Michigan, Kentucky, Louisville, and Tennessee are all public universities.
While the ruling stated that student-athletes at Northwestern are considered employees because they earn a scholarship, it also brought up a perpetual hot-button issue in college sports: Paying student-athletes.
Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said when he played basketball at Purdue 20 years ago, he would have agreed with pay-to-play. As a coach, he has questions about the ramifications.
“When you start playing players, you wonder, how much are you paying, who is getting paid?” Martin said. “Because if you’re paying this athlete, I think all athletes are the same. You pay the tennis player the same you pay the football player, I don’t think that changes.
“But does the athletic program have the money to pay athletes? And I think that’s the hard part. If you can get the money because you want to go to a movie every now and then, to be able to wash your clothes and do those things, I think there’s extra money. But when you’re talking about tens and thousands of dollars, I don’t know about that because then it becomes a pro sport.”
Michigan guard Spike Albrecht didn’t state an opinion on unionization, but doesn’t see any points for change.
“I’m going to school, and I am getting a free education, and I’ll eventually have a degree from Michigan,” Albrecht said. “I really have no complaints.”
RETURN TO INDIANA: Martin played college basketball at Purdue from 1992 to 1995 under college basketball Hall of Fame coach Gene Keady, and he returns to Indiana for the Sweet Sixteen.
Martin earned his degree from Purdue in 2000 following a four-year professional basketball career, as well as treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 1997, and served as an assistant coach on Keady’s staff.
“Playing for Coach Keady was a great experience for me,” Martin said. “And I’ll never forget when he came to my home in East St. Louis. A lot of coaches come in, sell me different things, talk about different things. The things that Coach Keady talked about was if you go to class every day you’ll get a degree. If you work hard, you’ll play, and that was really it. It was not a lot of promises going on.”
PITINO VS. CALIPARI: Calipari and Louisville coach Rick Pitino want to set the record straight prior to today’s Kentucky-Louisville meeting in the Sweet Sixteen: We’re friends.
“We’re friends, we respect each other’s programs very much, and I certainly have great respect for what he has accomplished,” Pitino said. “It really doesn’t matter what the perception is, because perception’s not reality.”
Calipari categorizes it similarly.
“I would say we’re friends,” Calipari said. “The stuff about they’re at each other’s throats, it’s just not accurate. I’d be stunned if he thinks of me in a week. Both of us have tough jobs that we have to be engulfed in what we do.”
ONE FAMILY, TWO TOURNEYS: Pitino’s son, Richard, prepares Minnesota for the NIT semifinals Tuesday against Florida State at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Richard Pitino is in his first season of coaching the Golden Gophers (23-13).
“He’s made it a lot of fun for the guys on the team, and I love seeing that,” Rick Pitino said. “I love seeing the way he’s handled himself, his competitive nature.
“And now he’s going to the finals at Madison Square Garden, where he grew up as a young boy being a ball boy with the New York Knicks. It’s a great treat for me.”
But, Pitino said, he has no plans to arrive to Richard’s games in a chicken suit, like his son, Ryan, did when they attended a Golden Gophers game in February.
“Never,” Pitino declared.