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

Should collegiate athletes be classified as employees?

Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter leads the effort to unionize college football players.


By Charles Glover, Jr.

The Northwestern University football team took the initial steps to be recognized as a union on Tuesday January, 28 2014. That date may mark the end on the current structure of amateur athletics as we know it. The president of the National College Players Association (NCPA), Ramogi Huma, filed a petition on behalf of the Northwestern football players at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

NCPA President Ramogi Huma helps organize efforts to provide union protection for college players.

NCPA President Ramogi Huma helps to organize efforts to provide union protection for college players.

Numerous Northwestern players signed union cards that Huma also submitted to the NLRB on a day in which there was a press conference held to announce their intentions to have these college players recognized as employees. Huma is currently seeking to represent Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) players and Division 1A college basketball players as be believes them to be “the strongest argument to be made” for players as employees at this time. The tenet the NCPA believes that qualifies players to be classified as employees is the 40 hours or more they must dedicate to their sport in order to receive their benefits (scholarship, room, and board).

Kain Colter, starting quarterback for Northwestern, has been front and center in this movement and was part of the press conference. Colter acknowledged that “many of us would probably have graduated by the time” this issue reached a resolution. Huma and Colter both mentioned that they are determined to endure the lengthy process it will likely take to reach their goal but they both stated the cause was well worth it. Colter was emphatic in supporting the notion stating, “to remain while players are denied justice would be complicit in inflicting injustice on future generations of collegiate athletes.”

Colter went on to explain that the three main goals they hope to achieve by unionizing. First, receiving medical protection for players while playing and in the future if they can prove the injury is a direct result of that sport. Second, academic trust funds for athletes as an incentive to improve the 50 percent graduation rate among those in FBS and Division 1A basketball. Third, an increase in the stipend players receive to defray additional costs. As Colter surmised, “players miss class regularly for sports but if a player with a 4.0 GPA misses games for academics, he’d lose his scholarship.”

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 their compensation for student-athletes.

In a statement released by NCAA Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy, the NCAA denied all of the claims made by the NCPA. Remy declared, “Student-athletes are not employees…their participation is completely voluntary.” Remy also maintained extreme confidence that any legal action would rule in the NCAA’s favor. The NCAA has been consistent in asserting that the benefits and educational possibilities players receive are adequate compensation for the athletic opportunities student-athletes experience.

While there are many people who do not believe the package college players receive is enough, there is a groundswell of support to extend the benefits these players receive as the NCAA continues to receive billions of dollars in revenue. The filing to the NLRB by Huma is the first step in a likely lengthy legal process. As ESPN business analyst Andrew Brandt mentioned on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, “The NCAA has legal precedent on its side and…it will take several years to conclude this matter.”

Regardless of the outcome of this matter, the discussion about the amateur status of collegiate players will rage on. This bold move by the NCPA may even inspire professional boxers, who lack a union as well, to recognize the importance of protecting athletes that help generate the billions of dollars in sports revenue yearly.––

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