There was a ruling yesterday by the National Labor Review Board that (basically) ruled that a group called the College Athletes Players Association and/or football players at Northwestern are allowed to unionize. There’s a long piece about it in Inside HigherEd, “Football Players Win Union, for Now.” Here’s a long quote from the beginning of that piece:
In what could be a landmark case, a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday backed a bid by football players at Northwestern University to unionize.
“I find that all grant-in-aid scholarship players for the Employer’s football team who have not exhausted their playing eligibility are ‘employees’ under” the National Labor Relations Act, Peter Sung Ohr, director of the board’s Chicago regional office, wrote in his ruling. Ohr said walk-on players — those without scholarships — do not qualify as employees.
The ruling cites multiple factors in concluding that the scholarship football players at Northwestern are employees: that they perform services for the benefit of their employer and receive compensation (in the form of a scholarship) in exchange, and that scholarship players are “subject to the employer’s control in the performance of their duties as football players.”
Ohr also differentiated the case of Northwestern’s football players from those of graduate teaching assistants at Brown University (in which the NLRB ruled for the university in 2004) because “the players’ football-related duties are unrelated to their academic studies unlike the graduate assistants whose teaching and research duties were inextricably tied to their graduate degree requirements.”
“The players spend 50 to 60 hours per week on their football duties during a one-month training camp prior to the start of the academic year and an additional 40 to 50 hours per week on those duties during the three or four month football season,” the NLRB ruling said. “Not only is this more hours than many undisputed full-time employees work at their jobs, it is also many more hours than the players spend on their studies.”
The decision is historic in its own right, but coupled with controversies surrounding head trauma, lawsuits regarding athletes’ rights (or lack thereof) to profit off their own image, and a new challenge to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s antitrust exemption, some experts believe it could contribute to the mounting assault on the underlying viability of the NCAA’s century-old amateur model.
Now, this is far from over– Northwestern and the NCAA and everyone else will certainly appeal and this will probably get settled at the U.S. Supreme Court– but it might be the beginning of something pretty dramatic. A loyal EMUTalk.org reader sent me a link to this in Esquire, “The Earthquake in College Sports is Here.” As Charles Pierce says in this brief commentary, “The whole system of college sports is going to have to change or collapse. The problem is that, in their shortsightedness and their greed, the NCAA and the college presidents it represents almost have guaranteed that the process will be sudden and bloody.”
Buckle in, sports fans– it might get bumpy!