Northwestern Football Players Could Unionize

by Norman B. Blumenthal on March 27, 2014

That’s right, on Wednesday March 26, 2014, the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago ruled that Northwestern Football players do indeed have the right to unionize, after they filed a petition to do so.

According to their argument, these players functioned as employees because they were required to “work” 20 to 50 per week, generated incredible amounts of revenue for the University, and were paid in the form of scholarships. According to a survey of Division 1 football, baseball and basketball players, they averaged 40 hours per week of in-season time spent in athletics, which directly violates the NCAA 20-hour rule. Through unionization, the players would like to see improved medical coverage, concussion testing, increased scholarships and possibly even compensation. It goes without saying that this ruling will most definitely change the NCAA landscape.

San Francisco California employment attorney Northwestern University has already released a statement that it plans to appeal the decision. Experts have said such an appeal could take years to resolve, although if unsuccessful would lead to great shifts in the world of college football… and college sports in general. All reviews and appeals must be filed to the National Labor Relations Board headquarters in Washington D.C. no later than April 9th. Northwestern’s appeal could take many years and go as far as the US Supreme Court before a decision is reached.

The NCAA (although not involved in the case) also released a statement that it is “disappointed” with the ruling and does not believe that these student athletes should be considered employees. They went on the explain that most of these athletes “participate to enhance their overall college experience and for the love of their sport, not to be paid.” The NCAA would like to primarily encourage success in the classroom, especially considering roughly 99% of college athletes will not make professional levels.

Being a college athlete myself, I often heard coaches and staff reiterating that we were to act as if the sport was a job. Complete commitment meant eliminating other jobs, restructuring class schedules, sacrificing social lives, and even (sometimes most importantly) following a strict diet and exercise routine. The National College Players Association (NCPA) explains that college football and basketball players in particular are being taken advantage of due to the extremely high revenue generation of their sports, while basic medical needs such as concussion testing are neglected. Additionally, many athletes ignore injuries and suffer through increased academic stress for fear of losing scholarships.

As labor law attorneys, we are happy to see a group of hard working individuals stand up for their employment rights, even when society says otherwise. If you feel as though you may be a similar position and your rights could be in violation, contact Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik now.

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