College Players Can Unionize, agency says

College Players Can Unionize, agency says

College footballplayers are not student-athletes, but employees of the university and thus entitled to form a union. That was the stunning decision handed down Wednesday by the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board. The ruling comes in response to a request filed by a group of football players at Northwestern University. In the ruling, NLRB Regional Director Peter Sung Ohr said that football players are recruited to school “because of their football prowess and not because of their academic achievement” and thus are subject to different rules than the general student population.

“The NCAA always refers to them as student-athletes, now this becomes down the road, I think, student-employees,” says Matt Thomas, Sportstalk 790 host and University of Houston broadcaster. Thomas tells KTRH that players becoming employees instead of scholarship students could ultimately backfire on them. “The scholarship protects them,” he says. “So if you don’t play well, you still get the scholarship, if you get hurt, you still get the scholarship…if you start treating them like employees, then you’re hurt and can’t go to work, theoretically companies can fire you, right?” For that reason, Thomas predicts this may only help a small minority of players, while hurting many others. “This is an avenue, I think, when most college athletes really sit down and look at it, they would say this might not be the best thing for us.”

The case is far from a done deal. Northwestern plans to appeal this week’s ruling to the NLRB in Washington, D.C. From there, the case could end up in the federal appeals court or even the U.S. Supreme Court. Whatever the ultimate outcome, many sports and business experts predict this could, at the very least, lead to some sort of salary or stipend payment for college athletes. Thomas says that would be a mistake. “My fundamental belief is four years of room and board and tuition, the best academics, and having access to great medical staffs at most of these institutions, is more than fair compensation.”