Northwestern players win first battle in legal war over paying college athletes

Former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter continues to lead the efforts unionize college athletes.

Former Northwestern University quarterback Kain Colter continues to lead the effort to unionize college athletes.

By Charles Glover, Jr.

On Wednesday, March 26, 2014, Northwestern University’s football team received a ruling in their favor that allows for them to unionize as a workforce. The football team, led by former quarterback Kain Colter, had appealled to the Chicago branch of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to be recognized as a workforce, based on the income they generate for the university and the stipulations in place for scholarship athletes that prevent them from receiving any of the income they earn.

NLRB Peter Sung Ohr made the ruling allowing Northwestern football players to join a union.

NLRB Peter Sung Ohr made the ruling allowing Northwestern University’s football players to join a union.

The regional director of the NLRB, Peter Sung Ohr, issued a ruling allowing the Norhtwestern University football players to form a union. The are several key takeaways from Ohr’s ruling:
1) Northwestern University is a private institution so this ruling will not likely impact collegiate athletes in public and state colleges.
2) Ohr specifically highlighted $235 million in income Northwestern University’s football produced between 2003 and 2012.
3) Ohr also took into account the “50 – 60 hours per week student athletes are required to perform in order to receive the benefits of their scholarship.”
4) Ohr explained in his ruling that:

“The level of control that the university has over the football players, (dress codes, living arrangements, money restrictions, etc.) resembles the kind of control an employer has over an employee, not a school over a student.”

NCAA Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy believes the NCAA has been fair in their compensation for student-athletes.

NCAA Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy believes the NCAA has been fair in its compensation of student-athletes.

Though this ruling is a major victory for the players, the matter is far from settled. With this ruling, Northwestern University’s football players will be able to start pursuing the benefits of employees in a union. They will work towards the ability to collectively bargain for protections in work conditions, earnings, and health care coverage. Northwestern University is already on the record against the decision stating:

“We believe strongly that student-athletes are not employees, but students.”

The university has already made it clear that their legal team will appeal the decision. Northwestern University will be joined by the NCAA in their appeal efforts as the college sports body has also voiced displeasure with the ruling. NCAA chief legal officer was quoted in a statement as saying,

“We strongly disagree with the notion that student-athletes are employees.”

It is clear that this is the beginning of a legal battle that the NCAA definitely does not want to lose. Score one for the players, now it’s on to round two.––

Charles Glover, Jr. is a sports aficionado and a management training consultant. Follow me @OpenWindowMES on

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