This came out about a week ago. Perhaps a good time to discuss this event, in which became a legal decision from the Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board.
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.'"
Ohr ruled that the players can hold a vote on whether they want to be represented by the College Athletes Players Association, which brought the case to the NLRB along with former Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter and the United Steelworkers union.
"The NCAA invented the term student-athlete to prevent the exact ruling that was made today. For 60 years, people have bought into the notion that they are students only. The reality is players are employees, and today's ruling confirms that. The players are one giant step closer to justice."
Northwestern issued a statement shortly after the ruling saying it would appeal to the full NLRB in
"While we respect the NLRB process and the regional director's opinion, we disagree with it," the statement read. "Northwestern believes strongly that our student-athletes are not employees, but students. Unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns raised by student-athletes."
The Big Ten also disagreed with the ruling and released a statement that read: "While we respect the process followed by the National Labor Relations Board, we disagree with the ruling. We don't believe that student-athletes are university employees. The issues raised during the hearings are already being discussed at the national level, and we believe that students should be a part of the conversation."
It was a sentiment shared by all of the big NCAA conferences, including the SEC.
"Notwithstanding today's decision, the SEC does not believe that full time students participating in intercollegiate athletics are employees of the universities they attend," Michael Slive, the SEC commissioner, said in a written statement.
In its endeavor to have the players recognized as essential workers, CAPA likened scholarships to employment pay -- too little pay from its point of view. Northwestern balked at that claim, describing scholarship as grants.
Giving college athletes employee status and allowing them to unionize, critics have argued, could hurt college sports in numerous ways -- including by raising the prospects of strikes by disgruntled players or lockouts by athletic departments.
The NCAA has been under increasing scrutiny over its amateurism rules and is fighting a class-action federal lawsuit by former players seeking a cut of the billions of dollars generated from live broadcasts, memorabilia sales and video games. Other lawsuits allege that the NCAA failed to protect players from debilitating head injuries.
NCAA president Mark Emmert has pushed for a $2,000-per-player stipend to help athletes defray some of their expenses. Critics say that isn't nearly enough, considering that players help bring in millions of dollars to their schools and conferences.
CAPA's specific goals include guaranteeing coverage of sports-related medical expenses for current and former players, ensuring better procedures to reduce head injuries and potentially letting players pursue commercial sponsorships.
For now, the push is to unionize athletes at private schools, such as Northwestern, because the federal labor agency does not have jurisdiction over public universities.