NLRB Rules Football Players At Northwestern University Can Unionize

In an incredible ruling for college athletes across America, NLRB has ruled that Northwestern University football players are employees and can unionize.

I've written about the how the NCAA makes all the money and barely leaves scraps for the student athletes that generate it all. A big ruling just came down in favor of all student athletes which could have a major impact in college sports.

The National Labor Relations Board in Chicago has ruled that football players at Northwestern University are employees and can unionize, the board said Wednesday.

In a statement, Northwestern acknowledged the ruling and says it plans to appeal.Read the board's ruling (PDF)

The players' petition was a way to get a seat at the bargaining table in college sports and could change the landscape of the NCAA model. Northwestern University fought the petition by saying its players are students, not employees.

But the board's decision indicates that there was enough evidence presented that the athletes are employees of the university -- getting paid in the form of scholarships, working between 20 and 50 hours per week and generating millions of dollars for their institutions.

ESPN writes that this is a game changing moment for college athletics.

In a potentially game-changing moment for college athletics, the Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board ruled on Wednesday that Northwestern football players qualify as employees of the university and can unionize.

NLRB regional director Peter Sung Ohr cited the players' time commitment to their sport and the fact that their scholarships were tied directly to their performance on the field as reasons for granting them union rights.
Ohr wrote in his ruling that the players "fall squarely within the [National Labor Relations] Act's broad definition of 'employee' when one considers the common law definition of 'employee.'"

Andy Staples says it's time for the NCAA To Negotiate:

The conference commissioners, athletic directors, coaches, and NCAA officials have had a great run of about 15 years in which their revenues have soared while their labor costs remained mostly flat. A lot of that money went into their pockets. And bless the $4 million football coach or the $1 million athletic director. They were only being good capitalists.


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The NCAA has responded in typical fashion.

The statement says that the NCAA strongly disagrees that student-athletes are employees. It also says student-athletes play "for the love of their sport, not to be paid."

I'm sure the NCAA will issue more Tea Party type response about this ruling. They will argue that it will destroy college sports altogether and will threaten to dismantle many of sports that don't generate huge amounts of cash for their coffers. Look for them to single out female athletes as their first scapegoat.

PBS has more.

MICHAEL MCCANN, University of New Hampshire Law School: Sure.It’s important because, by being declared employees, the student athletes will be able to then unionize, and they will be able to enter into collective bargaining with Northwestern University and try to demand salary benefits, but more than that, also, better health care benefits, disability payments, workers’ comp, the typical benefits that go along with the status of employment, which they currently do not get as student athletes.

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JEFFREY BROWN: Well, there are counterarguments for a long time, and of course most of it — much of it from the NCAA itself.They came out with a statement right now. They said: “We strongly disagree with the notion that student athletes are employees.” They continue: “We frequently hear from student athletes that they participate for the love of their sport, not to be paid.”What is — they have resisted this a long time. What is the brunt of their argument?MICHAEL MCCANN: Well, the brunt of the argument is what you noted, Jeffrey, that many student athletes are not commercialized in the sense that they are generating lots of revenue for their school, that when we look at athletes that are generating the revenue, they tend to play in two sports, one of which is men’s basketball. The other is college football.

But there are many athletes in college that are not like that, if you will, that are more traditional college athletes, that they’re primarily students who also play a sport. And there is something of a disconnect, where Kain Colter is representing the group that’s really commercialized, that’s on television, that’s generating a lot of revenue for Northwestern in terms of ticket sales, in terms of television deals, video game deals and the like.

And as a result, the NCAA is focused more on those that are not as commercialized. But I think it’s important to stress that there is a potential gender equity issue here. If only male athletes are paid, I’m sure that there will be female athletes who will bring a separate lawsuit under Title IX, which is a federal law that commands gender equity in higher education, including college sports.

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