Thursday, August 4, 2005
No one knows how a walkout would affect the season.
BLOOMSBURG, Pa. (AP) -- One of the toughest questions that Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference coaches have faced during their annual preseason meetings with the media has had nothing to do with football.
What would they do if the union that represents most of the PSAC athletic coaches went on strike over a labor dispute with administrators?
"I don't know. I'm not exactly sure what's going on. I'm here to coach and that's all I can control," Cheyney assistant coach Gus Felder said.
The non-faculty coaches at Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities have been working without a contract since June 2004. Health care costs, pay raises and performance evaluations are the key stumbling blocks between coaches and administrators.
Two months ago coaches voted to authorize a strike, giving the union's executive council the ability to call for a walkout if recommended by the coaches negotiating team. No date has been set, though mid-to-late August is seen as a likely target date.
If there was a strike, it would be the first of its kind among collegiate athletic coaches. Union negotiators, school system administrators and PSAC and NCAA officials say they know of no other such situation in the country.
A walkout would paralyze all fall sports including football. The 14 schools all belong to the PSAC, which is considered to be one of the toughest in Division II.
PSAC Commissioner Steve Murray said he remains optimistic that the two sides can reach a settlement soon. Most PSAC schools begin their season the last weekend in August.
Contingency plans haven't been made, Murray said. He then rattled off a list of questions that would have to be resolved: How would they adjust conference schedules? How would non-conference opponents react? How would a walkout affect a player's eligibility?
It's not clear how many coaches would cross the picket line. California coach John Luckhardt, a union member, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he would cross a picket line.
A handful of the 14 coaches, including East Stroudsburg's Denny Douds, also hold tenured faculty positions and contractually could not walk a picket line. East Stroudsburg enters the season having been picked in a preseason coaches poll to finish first in the PSAC East.
At the next table, Bloomsburg head coach Danny Hale, a vocal union supporter, said he would rather not miss a game.
"But if [the system] doesn't do something, then that's in your face," he said. "They would be forcing the issue."
Negotiators with the non-faculty coaches, represented by the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties and the State System of Higher Education last formally met on Monday. Both sides say there has been no movement, and no formal talks are scheduled.