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College Players’ Union Riding High, So Far

Ramogi Huma and the United Steelworkers celebrated the first big win in their push to unionize college athletes with an appearance on the Colbert Report and a triumphant tour on Capitol Hill.

After 14 years of toiling in the shadows, the head of the National College Players Association and the union backing him had reason to be happy. They won a landmark federal labor decision that said they deserved to negotiate for their interests in a game where billions of dollars are at stake.

But while Northwestern football players are scheduled to vote later this month on whether to let the Steelworkers represent them for better compensation, health insurance and work conditions, it could be years — if ever — before the union earns a spot at the bargaining table.

“The regional director’s decision was only the kickoff of a four-quarter game,” said Washington, D.C., labor attorney Jay Krupin.

Northwestern has a deadline today to ask for a review of the decision from the full National Labor Relations Board, and the university has said it plans to do so. That move will begin a process that could last years. Like a big game, it could all eventually be decided on a big stage: The U.S. Supreme Court.

Already, the powers that run big time college sports are girding for a fight. So is the football coach at Northwestern, who has made it clear he will do whatever he can to get his players to back off on their efforts to organize.

“I believe it’s in their best interests to vote no,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

If they do, it would be another year under federal labor laws before the players could vote again. The legal case may continue, or it could stall because of the players’ decision, labor attorneys said. Still, the issue is unlikely to go away. Organizers have said athletes at other schools have reached out about possible unionization — though they won’t say who they are..

Soccer

Wambach: Players Not Behind U.S. Coach’s Firing

Chula Vista, Calif. — Abby Wambach quickly dismissed any notion that players on the U.S. women’s soccer team had anything to do with the surprising firing of coach Tom Sermanni.

“None of it’s true,” Wambach said.

Wambach and Hope Solo said if the players did have a role in Sermanni’s firing, it was by not playing better during a disappointing seventh-place finish in the Algarve Cup in Portugal last month.

“I wish he was a jerk in some ways because it would be easier. But that’s just not the case,” said Wambach: said. “He’s such a good guy.”

Interim coach Jill Ellis was on her way to San Diego for Thursday night’s game against China.

Chelsea, Real Madrid In Champs League Semis

London — Demba Ba scored in the 87th minute to cap a comeback from a two-goal aggregate deficit, and Chelsea defeated Paris Saint-Germain 2-0 Tuesday night to reach the Champions League semifinals on away goals.

After a 3-1 Chelsea loss in the French capital last Wednesday, Andre Schuerrle began the comeback with a 32nd-minute goal. Ba entered in the 66th, and the only Parisian on the field stunned his hometown club by evening the aggregate 3-3 in the total-goals series.

In the night’s other match, Real Madrid reached the semifinals for the fourth consecutive season with a 3-2 aggregate win following a 2-0 defeat at Borussia Dortmund. In today’s games, Atletico Madrid hosts Barcelona and defending champion Bayern Munich is home against Manchester United.

Both first legs were 1-1.

Tennis

Federer to Play in Monte Carlo

Monaco — Roger Federer accepted a wild card invitation to play in the Monte Carlo Masters after skipping the tournament for the past two years.

The 17-time Grand Slam champion, who lose three straight finals in Monte Carlo to Rafael Nadal from 2006-08, has not played in the tournament since 2011, when he lost to Jurgen Melzer in the quarterfinals.

The 32-year-old Federer won his first title of the year in Dubai, beating Novak Djokovic in a three-set semifinal. He lost in the semifinals at the Australian Open and has reached three finals, losing narrowly to Djokovic in the BNP Paribas Open final last month and to Lleyton Hewitt in Brisbane in early January.

The tournament starts Sunday.