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Northwestern: Football players aren't recruited for athletic ability

In the weeks before Friday’s vote by Northwestern football players on unionizing, the university made a claim that might surprise the 76 scholarship players eligible to cast ballots.

Northwestern insisted it doesn’t recruit football players because of their ability to play football.

Yes, that’s correct. Northwestern, owner of five bowl trips since 2008, maintained in a National Labor Relations Board filing that athletes are recruited for the same reasons as any regular student. The ability to play quarterback or wide receiver, if you believe the document’s words, is purely coincidental.

“Northwestern scholarship football student-athletes are not ‘initially sought out, recruited and ultimately granted scholarships because of their athletic prowess on the football field,’” Northwestern’s attorneys said in the 50-page document. “The Regional Director also incorrectly found that ‘but for their football prowess the players would not have been offered a scholarship. … Rather, the record is clear that recruitment of student-athletes -- just like recruitment of all Northwestern undergraduates -- focuses on academics.”

Somehow, though, Coach Pat Fitzgerald managed to assemble a 15-man recruiting class earlier this year generally ranked among the 50 best in the country.

And after signing that class, Fitzgerald noted Northwestern “dominated” recruiting in the Chicago area. The coach, incidentally, is 55-46 at Northwestern since 2006.

But “football prowess” apparently didn’t factor into the recruitment of any of the men who comprised those teams, at least so long as your disbelief is suspended.

nathan.fenno@latimes.com

Twitter: @nathanfenno

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