Image 01 Image 03

NLRB dismisses ruling that would allow college athletes to unionize

NLRB dismisses ruling that would allow college athletes to unionize

Would create “competitive imbalances”

Monday morning, the National Labor Relations Board overturned a ruling that would have allowed football players at Northwestern University to unionize.

Citing concerns a union would provide an unfair advantage in the college football arena between unionized schools and the un-unionized, the NLRB’s ruling was unanimous.

According to the Associated Press:

The National Labor Relations Board on Monday overturned a historic ruling that gave Northwestern University football players the go-ahead to form the nation’s first college athletes’ union, saying the prospect of union and non-union teams could throw off the competitive balance in college football.

The decision throws out a March 2014 ruling by a regional NLRB director in Chicago who said that the football players are effectively school employees and entitled to organize. Monday’s decision did not directly address the question of whether football players are employees.

The labor dispute goes to the heart of American college sports, where universities and conferences reap billions of dollars, mostly through broadcast contracts, by relying on amateurs who are not paid. In other countries, college sports are small-time club affairs, while elite youth athletes often turn pro as teens.

The unanimous ruling by the five-member National Labor Relations Board concludes that letting Northwestern football players unionize could lead to different standards at different schools — from amounts of money players receive to the amount of time they can practice. That would, it says, create the competitive imbalances.

The ruling applies to private schools, like Northwestern, which is a member of the powerful Big Ten Conference. Public universities do not fall under the agency’s jurisdiction, though union activists have said they hope Northwestern’s example inspires unionization campaigns by athletes at state schools.

Northwestern became the focal point of the labor fight in January 2014 when a handful of football players called the NCAA a “dictatorship” and announced plans to form the first U.S. labor union for college athletes. Quarterback Kain Colter detailed the College Athletes Players Association at a news conference, flanked by leaders of the United Steelworkers union that has lent its organizing expertise and presumably will help bankroll the court fight.

ESPN called the decision, “a major victory for Northwestern and the NCAA.”

“In the decision, 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 in its decision. “By statute the Board does not have jurisdiction over state-run colleges and universities, which constitute 108 of the roughly 125 FBS teams.

“In addition, every school in the Big Ten, except Northwestern, is a state-run institution. As the NCAA and conference maintain substantial control over individual teams, the Board held that asserting jurisdiction over a single team would not promote stability in labor relations across the league.

“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.”

The sentiment was also mirrored in the AP report:

Northwestern, the Big Ten and the NCAA all argued against the unionization effort, saying that lumping college athletes into the same category as factory workers would transform amateur athletics for the worse. At one point, Northwestern administrators sent a document to players outlining potential pitfalls, noting that player strikes could lead to the spectacle of replacement players.

Follow Kemberlee Kaye on Twitter @kemberleekaye


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.



Whoopee! I have an intense dislike for unions.

This ruling stinks. The NLRB doesn’t care about “competitive imbalance” when it rules against a company in other industries, why does it suddenly care whether Northwestern suffers a competitive imbalance?


Eff the unions and eff all these amateur athletes that think free room and board and education with a modes stipend is “playing for free”

This kinda reminds me of the time I had a discussion about the P.E. requirement at my son’s high school. They wanted to deny him an entire year of an academic class, so they reviewed his prior record in detail and then decided he need an extra semester of P.E., because his prior school taught sex ed during P.E.

They told me that everybody had to take P.E., even olympic athletes, and that they were going to soon require 4 years of P.E. in high school, instead of just 2.

The head counselor and union representative was the LaCrosse coach.

Bottom line, although both high schools and colleges have a mission of educating young people, the best interests of the students are routinely not a factor in important decisions affecting the students.

These were students attending a so-called highly selective university in the Upper Midwest who saw the Rust Belt Ruins all around them and still decided that unions were a force for good.

pablo panadero | August 17, 2015 at 3:45 pm

How about they meet halfway. Make the professional drafts illegal (they really are just restraint of free trade), and permit athletes to be paid by the professional leagues to learn their craft in college., like what is done in co-operative education in engineering.

    Not A Member of Any Organized Political in reply to pablo panadero. | August 17, 2015 at 4:15 pm


    And let the taxpayer off the hook?????

    Lefty Progressive Dems will never go for anything as sensible as that!

Not A Member of Any Organized Political | August 17, 2015 at 4:16 pm

Shouldn’t Lizzie Borden Warren, and Hillary be jumping in there demanding they allow Unions???

2nd Ammendment Mother | August 17, 2015 at 4:44 pm

I’m a little disappointed, I was looking forward to the lesson of unintended consequences that was going to be served up when these athletes got their tax forms in January with all the “free stuff” itemized as income. Their tuition, room and board, fees, health insurance, personal trainers, tutors, wardrobe, tickets for family, and so forth…. and don’t forget the Unions cut of their salaries.

“…where universities and conferences reap billions of dollars, mostly through broadcast contracts, …”

Strange, for ‘reaping billions of dollars’ the universities always seem to be flat broke whenever it comes time to put up a new college stadium, and go straight to the students with their hands out requesting cash money from student fees to fund the construction.