Student Well-Being

Northwestern Football Players Are University Employees, NLRB Rules

By Bryan Toporek — March 26, 2014 1 min read
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In a landmark decision Wednesday, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern University football players with scholarships should be considered employees of the university instead of primarily student-athletes, and can thus form a union at their discretion.

While this is just the first step in what’s sure to be a drawn-out legal process, it’s the most direct challenge to the NCAA’s long-standing economic model to date. Allowing certain college athletes to unionize could revolutionize the future of college sports.

Gabe Feldman, the director of Tulane’s Sports Law program, shared part of the NLRB’s decision on Twitter:

In his decision, Peter Sung Ohr, the regional director for the NLRB’s Region 13, determined that “the scholarships the players receive is compensation for the athletic services they perform.” He also noted that the Northwestern football players typically devoted 40 to 50 hours per week to football, which is not only “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.” Thus, Northwestern cannot consider them “primarily students” who “spend only a limited number of hours performing their athletic duties.”

However, Ohr ruled that the only football players who can be considered employees of the university are scholarship players. Walk-on players cannot be considered employees because “they do not receive compensation for the athletic services that they perform.” Walk-ons also “appear to be permitted a greater amount of flexibility by the football coaches when it comes to missing portions of practices and workouts during the football season if they conflict with their class schedule,” he noted.


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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.