Game Changer? NLRB Region 13 Says
College Football Players Can Unionize

By Peter Moser   May 1, 2014

Sports pundits and labor law pundits alike are abuzz following a recent decision by Region 13 of the National Labor Relations Board involving the Northwestern University football program.

See Northwestern University and CAPA, Case #13-RC-121359 (‘‘Northwestern Decision’’).1 On March 26, 2014, to the surprise of many, Chicago area NLRB Regional Director Peter Sung Ohr ruled that scholarship athletes in Northwestern’s football program are university ‘‘employees’’ within the meaning of the National Labor Relations Act (‘‘NLRA’’), and are therefore entitled to pursue union representation. Shockwaves quickly reverberated across the country as fans, lawyers, and media outlets pondered a world of professionalized college sports in which the Rose Bowl or even the March Madness basketball tournament might be cancelled due to a labor strike.

But does the headline-grabbing decision really mark the beginning of a brave new world in college athletics? Are we truly witnessing the demise of the ‘‘student-athlete,’’ a dubious construct, already on life support? Or will the decision prove to be nothing more than a short-lived anomaly, eventually undone by myriad legal and practical challenges?

For a full copy of this article, as published in Bender’s Labor & Employment Bulletin, check out the link below.

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