No union for Division I football players at Northwestern University.
The National Labor Relations Board in Washington announced Monday that football players at Northwestern aren’t university employees and cannot attempt to unionize. According to the NLRB, this decision is narrowly focused to apply only to the players in this case and does not preclude reconsideration of this issue.
A release from the NLRB reads: “In the decision, the Board held that asserting jurisdiction would not promote labor stability due to the nature and structure of NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). By statute the Board does not have jurisdiction over state-run colleges and universities, which constitute 108 of the roughly 125 FBS teams. In addition, every school in the Big Ten, except Northwestern, is a state-run institution. As the NCAA and conference maintain substantial control over individual teams, the Board held that asserting jurisdiction over a single team would not promote stability in labor relations across the league.”
This is a victory for Northwestern, which fought to avoid its players from being designated employees, and the NCAA, which was strongly opposed to union organization in college sports. The NCAA wasn’t party to the case.
“We applaud our players for bringing national attention to these important issues, but we believe strongly that unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns raised by student-athletes,” said Alan K. Cubbage, Northwestern vice president for university relations. “We are pleased that the NLRB has agreed with the University’s position.”
In March, the Chicago office of the NLRB ruled that Northwestern football players are employees of the university and have the right to collectively bargain. Regional director Peter Sung Ohr wrote then “it is clear that the players are controlled to such a degree that it does impact their academic pursuits to a certain extent.”
Had the union movement been successful, the Northwestern ruling would have only applied to private schools and athletes at public schools would have had to petition to unionize through their state boards.
In April 2014, 76 Northwestern football players voted on whether to form a union, one day after the NCAA Board of Directors proposed a new governance structure that would provide the Division I football-playing schools with the largest athletic budgets, including Northwestern, the autonomy to make changes that would provide additional benefits to athletes.
That has become a reality. This year, many college athletes are receiving full cost of attendance along with additional benefits.
A coalition representing the 31 Division I conference offices agreed with ruling, saying in a release:
“The NLRB made the right call. It’s important to remember we’re talking about students, not employees.”