Last week Peter Sung Ohr, the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago, ruled that football players at Northwestern University could unionize. In issuing the ruling, Ohr found that the players were employees of the university.
The ruling sent shock waves reverberating through American higher education since no one expected this outcome. It presumes that Northwestern’s football players are under contract to perform services (letter of intent, scholarship award), subject to the employer’s control (coaching and scholarship rules) and paid for these services (scholarships). As the employer, Northwestern benefited from the revenue made by the football team and received by the school.
The implication for sports teams where revenue does not exceed expenses or for Title IX remains unclear.
In an important way, the Northwestern University ruling represents something far greater than a decision about whether or not athletes at a Division I university can unionize…
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