College Football Unionized, Really?

3/26/14
 
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from The New York Times,
3/26/14:

A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled Wednesday that a group of Northwestern football players were employees of the university and have the right to form a union and bargain collectively.

For decades, the major college sports have functioned on the bedrock principle of the student-athlete, with players receiving scholarships to pay for their education in exchange for their hours of practicing and competing for their university. But Peter Ohr, the regional N.L.R.B. director, tore down that familiar construct in a 24-page decision.

He ruled that Northwestern’s scholarship football players should be eligible to form a union based on a number of factors, including the time they devote to football (as many as 50 hours some weeks), the control exerted by coaches and their scholarships, which Mr. Ohr deemed a contract for compensation.

“It cannot be said that the employer’s scholarship players are ‘primarily students,’ ” the decision said.

The ruling comes at a time when the N.C.A.A. and its largest conferences are generating billions of dollars, primarily from football and men’s basketball. The television contract for the new college football playoff system is worth $7.3 billion over 10 years, and the current deal to broadcast the men’s basketball tournament is worth $10.8 billion over 14 years.

The decision could give momentum to those who believe the N.C.A.A. should modify its rules on how athletes are compensated. The ruling applies only to scholarship football players at Northwestern, but the precedent could extend to other Division I scholarship football players at similar private universities. (Collective bargaining at public universities is governed by state law, not the N.L.R.B.)

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