College Sports

Fiedorowicz supports college athletes' unionization attempt

North tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (87) of Iowa runs on to the field before the Senior Bowl NCAA college football game on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, in Mobile, Ala. (AP Photo/G.M. Andrews)
North tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (87) of Iowa runs on to the field before the Senior Bowl NCAA college football game on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, in Mobile, Ala. (AP Photo/G.M. Andrews)

During his four-year Iowa football career, C.J. Fiedorowicz received a monthly scholarship check for $980.

Once he laid out $560 for rent, Fiedorowicz had $420 remaining to live on and split between food, entertainment and the occasional night out with friends.

But considering that the Johnsburg native played for a Hawkeyes team that generated more than $44 million in revenue in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Education, Fiedorowicz figures his contributions to Iowa's on-field and financial success should be worth more than what he received.

"I know what it's like to go to school and play football and it's a lot, a lot of work – people have no idea (how much) you're doing," Fiedorowicz said in a phone interview on Wednesday night. "A lot of students may say, 'Oh, they've already got it made – they've got a full-ride scholarship.'

"But besides that, you have to do all the other things that a regular college student is doing plus play football. Then you're also making millions of dollars for the university. And the players see none of it....I just don't think that's fair to be honest."

Fiedorowicz said he sides with an effort being led by former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, who on Tuesday, announced the creation of the College Athletes Player Association. The effort received the backing of the United Steelworkers at a press conference on Tuesday in Chicago. The movement is an attempt, Colter said, to improve conditions for Division I athletes, beginning with football and basketball players.

While the initial push seeks for better medical coverage, scholarship protection and other benefits, Fiedorowicz believes a union could provide players better representation with the NCAA – a governing body which stands accused of turning its head to athletes best interests.

Despite having his education paid for and having his path paved for an NFL future, Fiedorowicz said that at times he felt like he was being exploited.

The NCAA disagrees. In a statement issued Tuesday by the NCAA's chief legal officer, Donald Remy, the NCAA stated that athletes should not be considered an university employee like Colter suggested maybe they should be.

"This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education," Remy said in the statement. "Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize."

Fiedorowicz points to a steady workload as a reason perhaps players should receive extra benefits in addition to those their scholarships provide. In addition to maintaining a normal classload, Fiedorowicz – who was a leisure studies major at Iowa – said his schedule was dictated by football between daily practices, road trips and other responsibilities carried out by him and his teammates.

It's a schedule, Fiedorowicz said, that the average fan couldn't comprehend and that is more exhaustive than people realize. That, coupled with the fact that he feels a university that had just more than $92 million in revenues generated by athletics, should entitle athletes to a bigger piece of the pie.

Having a union to represent players, he said, would be a good start.

Fiedorowicz said receiving a stipend could help, using teammates who did not have enough extra money to fly home to see their families as an example. The 6-foot-7, 265-pound tight end said he has never owned a car, relying instead on a moped during his four years at Iowa.

Fiedorowicz often would travel on his moped from his apartment to early-morning workouts during winter months at 6 a.m. in freezing-cold weather – an aspect of his life normal students didn't understand.

"Ninety-five percent of the student body has no idea what's actually happening (with athletes)," Fiedorowicz said. "They just see us playing the game on Saturday, getting all the fame and it's not like that."

But Fiedorowicz isn't sure if unionizing college athletics will ever happen. At Tuesday's press conference, CAPA founder and president Ramogi Huma – a former UCLA linebacker – said that much of the billions of dollars generated by the NCAA takes care of highly paid coaches while the players, for the most part, are overlooked.

Any movement like that being proposed by Colter to better represent players, Fiedorowicz said, would be a step in the right direction. How long that could take – or if it happens at all – remains in question.

"I think, if a lot more people stood up and said something, I think there would be a chance," he said. "But I just don't think it will ever happen. Once you start paying football players, you have to start paying everybody else and I think that would just start a big fight."

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