Federal agency opens the flood house for athletes in college to get paid

A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board has opened up a can worms, deciding that football players at Northwestern University can unionize and therefore argue for better terms as employees rather than student-athletes, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Northwestern senior Kain Colter took the lead on this issue, starting the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA), which has received legal funding from the United Steelworkers union. While CAPA had sought to unionize, there was no clear expectation that it would actually succeed. And there are still hurdles for the association to get through.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

But what’s clear is the ramifications of this decision will be widespread if allowed to go forward. Not only will athletes for profit-raking sports like football and basketball likely argue to receive cash — something NCAA president Mark Emmert has proposed to do with a $2,000 a month stipend — but athletes in non-money making sports will likely seek out payments too. Lawyers for the university, who were opposed to the team’s football players seeking to unionize, are expected to appeal to national labor leaders in Washington D.C., continuing the NCAA’s stance in defense of amateurism. However, public universities would be exempt because they are not under the jurisdiction of the federal labor agency.

What’s key here is CAPA’s argument that athletes are essentially employees with scholarships as high $75,000 at Northwestern, according to the account from the Associated Press. Those scholarships are compensation, argued lawyers for CAPA, and therefore make Northwestern’s football players employees for the university.

With money being brought in from television contracts, merchandise, licensing fees, and video games, the players feel that those scholarships are too little. But what’s more, this ruling brings on the possibility of strikes and lockouts on college campuses if players are dissatisfied.

The NCAA has been been struck with a number of legal entanglements in the past few years, including Ed O’Bannon’s class-action antitrust lawsuit against the governing body of college athletics, which is seeking to lift the restrictions on athletes making money off of their names. That case is moving forward with the trail beginning June 9.