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Forcing change on the NCAA does not come easy, if not impossible. But five Georgia offensive linemen are joining other college players from across the country to try and make that happen.
The five - John Theus, Kolton Houston, Kenarious Gates, Chris Burnette and David Andrews - last week joined Georgia Tech quarterback Vlad Lee, Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter and others playing on national television last week by wearing "APU", which stands for All Players United, on their equipment. The five Bulldogs wrote the inscription on their wrist bands.
The effort is the brainchild of the National Collegiate Players Association, an advocacy group made up of current and former college athletes.
"I'm still trying to figure out the whole deal. I was probably like a lot of people seeing it on the ticker after the game. I just have to educate myself a little better with what it's all about. We have the freedom of speech in our country, but the question is what's the most appropriate way of doing it, so that's the only thing," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. "Based on what I read about what their concerns were seemed like pretty legitimate concerns. Whatever they are trying to accomplish it is being done in a respectful way, so that's all I really know. I don't really know much about it, so I'll just have to learn more as we go."
Georgia's offensive linemen have not been made available to the media for comment now for two weeks.
So, what's the protest about?
According to the NCPA website - ncpanow.org - it's due to a number of wide-ranging issues that pertains to student athletes today.
• Demonstrate unity among college athletes and fans from different campuses seeking NCAA reform.
• Show support for the players who joined concussion lawsuits against the NCAA, which could force the NCAA to finally take meaningful steps to minimize brain trauma in contact sports and provide resources for current and former players suffering with brain injuries.
• Show support for the players who stepped up in the O'Bannon vs. NCAA, EA Sports lawsuit regarding the use of players' images/likeliness, which could unlock billions of dollars in resources for current, future, and former players.
• Stand behind individual players being harmed by NCAA rules.
• Direct a portion of over $1 billion in new TV revenue to guarantee basic protections.
•Guarantee scholarship renewals for permanently injured players.
• Ensure injured players are not stuck with sports-related medical bills.
• Increase scholarships $3-5k to cover the full cost of attendance.
• Minimize brain trauma in contact sports.
• Establish an educational lockbox (trust fund) to increase graduation rates.
Bulldog junior receiver Chris Conley is currently in the midst of a two-year term representing the SEC on the NCAA's Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and understands the issues mentioned above.
However, he's not sure if the means by which his teammates are trying to force the change will have the desired effect.
"Its going to come down to people agreeing that there needs to be something to happen. People talk about those issues and realize change needs to happen but it's going to come down to groups of people being willing to do something about it," Conley said. "How that's going to happen, I don't know right now, but it's going to take a collective effort just because of the landscape of college athletics."
Senior tight end Arthur Lynch - who said he was unaware of the protest by his teammates - agreed.
"It takes more than writing on your wrist band. If you want action you're going to collectively get together as a group and if you want something done legitimize yourself, present yourself as a common cause and bring some legitimacy to the issue," he said. "Don't, in my opinion, write it on your wristband, that's not going to get anything done."
But if bringing attention to the concern of student athletes is the goal, then the "APU" protest is a potential way of getting the word out.
Lynch agreed there's nothing wrong with that.
In fact, he's got a grievance of his own he'd like to include - that is the need to educate perspective student athletes and their families what it actually means when they sign that letter-of-intent.
"They bring so many people here to educate us about the NFL. But if you're a college athlete whether it be soccer, track, football, I think the NCAA needs to fund and require representatives to go to schools, public or private, and educate these kids what they're really doing when they sign that letter of intent," Lynch said. "I'm signing away basically the same rights when I sign with an agent at the end of the season. Obviously, the conversation is different but in terms of signing away our name and our rights, that's something I think the parents and the perspective athlete probably need to know a little bit more about because I didn't. I was just happy to get a full ride."
Although it's not certain why the five Georgia linemen are getting involved, the recent situation involved Houston and his three-year suspension as the result of a positive test for a PED - administered by doctors to Houston following shoulder surgery while still in high school - is the likely reason why.
"The NCAA fumbled the ball. Evidence was brought to them and I think they were trying to hold too much pride in their institution where in reality an amateur athlete was suffering," Lynch said. "He wasn't breaking any rule, he wasn't funneling money from agents. He was on the short end of a mistake of something that happened five years ago. His situation was mishandled and he suffered for it but now he's starting for us and playing a big role."
There's no word if the protest by the five Bulldogs will continue for Saturday's nationally televised game with LSU (3:30, CBS).
"Whether that APU thing will work over time, we'll have to wait and see. Right now, given the state of the NCAA, given the landscape of college football, it's hard to speculate where that's going to come from or how that's going to happen. It's possible, given the situation that the linemen are involved in, although I don't have enough information to comment or speak on it," Conley said. "I'm still gathering information. But you know, if enough people want change, if enough people act to make change, it will happen."
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