Earlier today, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) Regional Office 13 issued a groundbreaking decision in Northwestern University v. College Athletes Players Association (Case No. 13-RC-121359) which could fundamentally alter the relationship of college football players to their schools and to the N.C.A.A.
The NLRB’s Regional Office ruled that:
(1) College football players on scholarships at Northwestern University are “employees” within the meaning of the National Labor Relations Act; and
(2) As a result of being “employees,” these college football players are entitled to hold a secret-ballot election, under the direction of the NLRB’s Regional Director for Region 13, on whether or not to form a union.
The NRLB’s decision was based on a simple and indisputable premise — that college football players perform valuable services for their universities. These valuable services generated revenues of approximately $235,000,000 from 2003-2012 through ticket sales, television contracts, merchandise sales, and licensing agreements. The universities were able to capture this revenue and utilize it in any manner they saw fit. In return, the players receive scholarships that function essentially as “compensation,” thus confirming the employer-employee relationship.
You can read the NLRB’s decision here. Northwestern University will now have until April 9, 2014 to request a review of the decision by the full NLRB in Washington, D.C.
Note: Interestingly, today’s decision comes only a week after a federal lawsuit was filed alleging that the N.C.A.A. and the five “power conferences” have made billions of dollars off college athletes by effectively restraining their compensation and competition. You can read more about this lawsuit, filed by famed sports lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, here.