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Leo W. Gerard, President of the Steelworkers, (R) and Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter answer questions at a press conference on January 28 2014 at The Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago Illinois. Citing what they deem as the NCAA's abdication of responsibility to protect athletes from injury, the College Athletes Association (CAPA) announced the creation of the new labor organization to represent college football and basketball players.
A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled Wednesday that college football players at Northwestern University have the right to unionize.
The College Athletes Players Association, formed by Northwestern football players, argued that scholarship students are “employees” and should be represented by a union — the players sought a “seat at the table” for collective bargaining.
Northwestern has already announced that it will appeal the decision to the Washington chapter of the NLRB, the beginning of what is expected to be a long appellate process. But the initial decision has already sparked more interest in the conversation about unionized college sports.
If the ruling stands, private colleges nationwide could be impacted (the NLRB has no jurisdiction over public universities). What seems like an issue for big sports schools competing nationally in high-stakes, big-money games may also affect smaller programs within athletic departments.
How will non-scholarship athletes fare? Will smaller teams or less prominently featured sports form unions? Will the NCAA, universities, and states adapt their rules to accommodate “paid,” unionized players? How will public schools adapt to these changes?
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Pat Haden, Director of Athletics at the University of Southern California
Zev Eigen, Associate Professor Law at Northwestern Law School and Associate Professor of Management & Strategy (by courtesy) at Kellogg School of Management