National Labor Relations Board decision: Northwestern University football players can form union

27 Mar

Moi wrote in College football players want to form a union:
The idea of recognizing that “student” athletes are really low-paid employees of colleges and apprentices in the billion dollar sports industry would force college administrators, parents, and athletes to face some very hard truths. The NCAA has compiled a probability chart which shows just how few student athletes have a realistic change of even being drafted to play professional sports and then go on to have a successful professional career. See,
Moi has about as much chance of playing for a professional team as the average kid with dreams of sports stardom.

Jorge Castillo wrote an intriguing report in the New York Times about historian Taylor Branch’s Atlantic article. In After Leaving Football, a Historian Emerges as an N.C.A.A. Critic, Castillo reports:

The October issue of The Atlantic magazine featured a 14,000-word cover story by Branch titled “The Shame of College Sports.” Its focus was the N.C.A.A., and the thesis Branch presented was that the organization was little more than a sham, exploiting athletes in revenue sports like football and men’s basketball to make hundreds of millions of dollars while expounding the virtues of amateurism.

The problem is literally 1000s of starry eyed kids and in some instance, stage parents who are willing to do whatever for a slim chance and wealth and stardom. Add to this mix the big business system of agents, coaches, and colleges who want to stay on the good side of powerful alumni.

Brad Wolverton of the Chronicle of Higher Education reported in the article, Northwestern U. Football Players Win Bid to Unionize:

Football players at Northwestern University cleared a significant hurdle on Wednesday, as a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that they qualified as employees with the right to unionize.
The decision, which the university said it would appeal, could lead to radical changes in how colleges treat big-time athletes. But the appeals process could take years to play out.
Some observers believe a union could allow athletes to share in television and licensing revenue and to secure long-term health benefits. Union leaders say their priority is to ensure the health and safety of players.
The unionization effort is one of several high-profile cases to challenge the NCAA’s amateur system. In interviews on Wednesday, several athletics officials said they believed the cases could prompt colleges to do more to help athletes, whether or not they ever go to trial.
Last week Jeffrey L. Kessler, a prominent sports-labor lawyer, filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA, arguing that it had unfairly capped compensation for players in big-time football and basketball programs at the value of an athletic scholarship. And in June a federal antitrust case involving the use of athletes’ images and likenesses is set to go to trial in California.
Defending Amateurism
Legal experts say those cases have the potential to upend the business of major-college sports. But the NCAA has shown little willingness to negotiate change in its amateur model….
• Employees or Not? Graduate-Student Assistants Versus Scholarship Athletes
• ‘The Days of the Brown U. Ruling Are Numbered’
• Reactions to the Ruling on College Athletes’ Bid to Form a Labor Union S

See, decision:

Allie Grasgreen and Doug Lederman of Inside Higher Ed reported in the article, Football Players Win Union, for Now:

In what could be a landmark case, a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday backed a bid by football players at Northwestern University to unionize.
“I find that all grant-in-aid scholarship players for the Employer’s football team who have not exhausted their playing eligibility are ’employees’ under” the National Labor Relations Act, Peter Sung Ohr, director of the board’s Chicago regional office, wrote in his ruling. Ohr said walk-on players — those without scholarships — do not qualify as employees.
The ruling cites multiple factors in concluding that the scholarship football players at Northwestern are employees: that they perform services for the benefit of their employer and receive compensation (in the form of a scholarship) in exchange, and that scholarship players are “subject to the employer’s control in the performance of their duties as football players.”
Ohr also differentiated the case of Northwestern’s football players from those of graduate teaching assistants at Brown University (in which the NLRB ruled for the university in 2004) because “the players’ football-related duties are unrelated to their academic studies unlike the graduate assistants whose teaching and research duties were inextricably tied to their graduate degree requirements.”
“The players spend 50 to 60 hours per week on their football duties during a one-month training camp prior to the start of the academic year and an additional 40 to 50 hours per week on those duties during the three or four month football season,” the NLRB ruling said. “Not only is this more hours than many undisputed full-time employees work at their jobs, it is also many more hours than the players spend on their studies.”
The decision is historic in its own right, but coupled with controversies surrounding head trauma, lawsuits regarding athletes’ rights (or lack thereof) to profit off their own image, and a new challenge to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s antitrust exemption, some experts believe it could contribute to the mounting assault on the underlying viability of the NCAA’s century-old amateur model….
The ruling applies only to private colleges, so athletes at public institutions would have to petition at the state level should they seek to unionize. But if the full board affirms the regional decision, its basis could ultimately be used by athletes at other universities as grounds to seek unionization, said William A. Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at the City University of New York’s Hunter College.
“This is an important issue for both NCAA players and universities, along with graduate students throughout the country,” Herbert said. “This case may present, for the NLRB, an opportunity to re-examine the decision of Brown University.”
Ohr noted in his decision that the Brown case, in which graduate teaching and research assistants at private institutions were denied the right to unionize, should not apply to the Northwestern athletes. Northwestern administrators had cited Brown University vs. NLRB in saying that scholarship athletes are not employees.
That decision said graduate students were not employees because they are scholarship students, they play a role in graduate education and have a unique relationship with faculty. In other words, their role as teaching assistants was an educational one. Football players, on the other hand, must fulfill many duties completely unrelated to their education, Ohr said.
Michael A. Olivas, director of the Institute of Higher Education Law and Governance at the University of Houston, said he doesn’t think this issues will ultimately be decided through a series of court rulings.
“I think it’s going to come by Congress looking at this and legislating, because they’re the only ones that can really consider this in the context of antitrust law, employment law, labor law, the variety of very specific subfields that are implicated,” Olivas said. “You can’t just do it on a sort of case-by-case basis….”

Maybe it’s time to look at athletes as apprentices for the sports business. The question then becomes how to adequately compensate fodder for the big business, big money sports machine? Most of the kids who are part of the process will never see a payoff in sports. Maybe the compensation should be an education trust fund for college athletes so that when they are perhaps more mature and more realistic about career prospects, they have the resources for a real education.

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