In the dismissal, the NLRB wrote, “the Board held that asserting jurisdiction would not promote labor stability due to the nature and structure of NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).” The NLRB wrote that the dismissal is specific to this particular petition saying, “This decision is narrowly focused to apply only to the players in this case and does not preclude reconsideration of this issue in the future.”
In essence, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) punted on Monday in Northwestern University football players’ attempt to form a union. Led by former team quarterback Kain Colter and a group of student athletes calling themselves the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA), the players testified that they put in roughly 1,750 hours of football-related activities per year with no pay beyond their scholarships and per-diem stipends. The movement to unionize began in January 2014, with safety concerns being the main priority. In addition to citing the need to be paid for their efforts, Colter demanded that the schools and the NCAA agree to a program that will pay for the treatment of football-related injuries later in life that occurred while playing for the university. Instead of backing or rejecting the argument however; the five-person national NLRB panel dismissed the petition, citing lack of jurisdiction. According to the NLRB, the board only maintains jurisdiction for private sector business, in which only 17 of the 125 division I football programs are, including Northwestern. 108 of the participants are state-run institutions however, including every other team in Northwestern’s Big Ten Conference.
In the dismissal, the NLRB wrote, “the Board held that asserting jurisdiction would not promote labor stability due to the nature and structure of NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).” The NLRB wrote that the dismissal is specific to this particular petition saying, “This decision is narrowly focused to apply only to the players in this case and does not preclude reconsideration of this issue in the future.” Last year, the NLRB’s regional director in Chicago ruled that Northwestern football players are employees, with both Northwestern University and the NCAA appealing that decision. Monday’s full-panel ruling, however, stalls the battle for another time. CAPA president and former UCLA linebacker Ramogi Huma believes the NLRB ruling to be a cop-out, saying that “Competitive equity doesn’t exist right now, and we have data to support that. To use a hollow argument to deny players equal protection under the law is disappointing.” Huma added, “This delays the players having the leverage they need to protect themselves.”
The NCAA responded to the ruling in a statement, writing “The National Labor Relations Board’s decision to reject jurisdiction and dismiss the union petition in this case is appropriate. In its ruling, the NLRB recognized the NCAA continually evolves to better support college athletes. In recent years we have provided college athletes with multi-year scholarships, free education for former college athletes and unlimited meals.” Colter also cited the recent changes affording FBS athletes more concessions. While saying he and Huma were “obviously disappointed” by the dismissal, Colter pointed out the NCAA changes were a sign of the group’s accomplishments. In an “Outside the Lines” ESPN special, Colter said “Since we started this movement, a lot of positive changes have come from this, the introduction of four-year scholarships, increased stipends, maybe better medical coverage, the lifting of food restrictions. A lot of the things that we’ve been fighting for have been adopted.” He also said however, “there is a lot of room to go.”
Colter and Huma are planning the next steps to take in the matter, as the NLRB’s ruling will likely continue the saga for years. Colter told ESPN, “Me and Ramogi and a bunch of other people saw it going differently, but this isn’t the end. This isn’t going to stop us from pushing for college athlete rights. That will eventually come. If it’s not going to happen this way, we’ll get it another way.” Had the NLRB ruled in favor of CAPA, Northwestern University wrote in a July brief to the board, that it “would create chaos in college athletics.” Northwestern University President Alan K Cubbage wrote in a statement on Monday, “As the University has stated previously, Northwestern considers its students who participate in NCAA Division I sports, including those who receive athletic scholarships, to be students, first and foremost. We applaud our players for bringing national attention to these important issues, but we believe strongly that unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns raised by student-athletes. We are pleased that the NLRB has agreed with the University’s position.”
CNN Money – Chris Isidore
ESPN – Tom Farrey
NPR –Cheryl Corley