A movement that calls for recognizing student athletes as employees suffered a major setback, earlier in August. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decided not to assert any jurisdiction in the case of the Northwestern University football players association seeking recognition as employees.
NLRB’s decision in this stance was not unexpected. Legal experts were fully aware of the organization’s stand in promoting competitiveness across different states. In a statement, NLRB explained in detail why it refused to assert jurisdiction.
A ruling in favor of the movement can easily disrupt labor stability across the US as it would apply to only 17 private schools in the football bowl division of NCAA. There are currently over 100 other public universities with renowned, big-time football games that are governed by labor laws of their respective states. These include all the teams in the Big Ten, except Northwestern. NLRB feels that the ruling can adversely affect competitive balance.
It is worth noting that competitive balance disruption is always cited as the number one reason why several college athletes across the US are denied more rights. Some of the major critics of Power Five argued that granting college football associations the power to govern themselves will certainly leave several smaller and less wealthy schools at a clear disadvantage.
NLRB, it seems, has been more concerned with maintaining fairness within NCAA teams rather than creating fairness among NCAA labor. This makes the scope of the decision extremely narrow and one-sided, leaving room for future attempts to unionize all college athletes nationwide. It also vacates a previous ruling by Peter Sung Ohr (the regional NLRB director) that labeled Northwestern football players as employees and allowed them to form their own unions.
Those who were favoring Ohr’s ruling were also expecting that it would effectively end the term “student-athlete”- which was created by the marketing team at NCAA to defend all workers’ compensation claims whenever players got injured on the field. They were of the opinion that the policies that denied livable wages and sufficient healthcare facilities for athletes needed to change.
Luckily for them, the policy and attitude seems to be shifting in their favor. NLRB has had the opportunity to steer the cause towards the right direction, without being a part of it. Student-athletes are often dismissed as “amateurs” who play sports as a means to get an education and are nothing more than low-cost minor leaguers aiming for the pros.
Unlike professional sports, college sports is a large business and most of the college athletes are now being considered as a labor force to be reckoned with- considering the fact that they have to follow an almost one-sided work-study regimen. NLRB should have easily advocated this case; the same way it had backed several similar cases in the past that sought to unionize college athletes and grad students and categorize all teaching assistants as employees.
Whether the decision is final or not, one thing is certain. Things certainly look good for college-athletes as more and more organizations are joining their cause. For now, they will have to make the best from cost-of-attendance scholarships to relaxed meal restrictions.
To learn more about the status and legal rights of college athletes, contact Kosnett Law Firm today!



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