Employment Law – NLRB finds Northwestern football players are employees and can form union

The Regional Director of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Chicago has ruled that football players at Northwestern University are employees and have the right to form a union (click here for the ruling and for briefs filed by the parties).

The NLRB’s decision is sure to be appealed.  The full impact of the ruling is unclear and many questions remain.  The ruling was a surprise to most as the term “student-athlete” is well-known and while there is disagreement on whether a scholarship is adequate compensation for NCAA football and basketball players, the idea that college athletes could be considered employees was not considered seriously by the general public until now.

In determining that Northwestern University and its football players were in an employer-employee relationship, some of the things NLRB focused on were the control the university has over the players in their time, activities, and conduct; that the scholarships can be canceled for the failure to follow team rules; that the time commitment for players is about 40-50 hours/week during the season and 12-25 hours/weeks in the off-season; that academics take a back seat to football activities if there is a conflict; and the $70 million in profit earned by the Northwestern football program in the period of 2003-2012.

For more on this case, see this Chicago Tribune article and this ESPN analysis.


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