Since the inception of college athletics, and the formation of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, college athletes have been at the discretion of the NCAA. Athletes put in countless hours to training and competing, but never see any of the money that they help bring into the university. However, a group of Northwestern football players are trying to possibly bring about change.
On March 27th a Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern football players are employees of the university and are allowed to unionize. Peter Sung Ohr, the NLRB regional director, said the players were allowed to unionize because of the time commitment to the sport, and that their scholarship was tied directly to their performance on the field. In his ruling Ohr said the players “fall squarely within the NLRB Act’s broad definition of ’employee’ when one considers the common law definition of employee.'”The players will be able to hold a vote and decide if they want to be represented by the College Athletes Players Association.
However, this move was not well received by many. NCAA president Mark Emmert said it was “ridiculous.” Emmert continued on to say that if athletes were allowed to unionize it would “blow up everything about the collegiate model of athletics.”
Not only was the NCAA not pleased with the decision, but neither was Northwestern University. In fact, Northwestern is appealing the NLRB decision. The prestigious institution is arguing that its athletic program “is fully integrated with its academic mission, and that it treats its athletes as students first.”
The NLRB recently announced that on April 25th the Northwestern football team will vote by secret ballot on whether or not to actually unionize. While it appears that most players are on board with the unionization, head football coach Pat Fitzgerald, is not. “I believe its in their best interest to vote no. Im going to stick to the facts,” Fitzgerald said. Fitzgerald is allowed to discuss the vote with the team all the way up until 24 hours before the vote takes place. The only players allowed to vote are scholarship athletes participating in team activities, and only one incoming freshmen, who enrolled early, will be allowed to vote.
No matter what happens on April 25th history in college athletics will be made.
First image is of former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, who was instrumental in the push for unionization courtesy of Getty Images. Second image is of NCAA president Mark Emmert courtesy of Associated Press.