NLRB regional director: College football players are employees, not student athletes, and can unionize

Look on the bright side: Employment is finally growing in one sector of Obama’s America.

The magical combination of unions, the NCAA, college football, and Chicago makes me think this can’t possibly lead to a bad outcome.

NLRB regional director Peter Sung Ohr cited the players’ time commitment to their sport and the fact their scholarships were tied directly to their performance as reasons for granting them union rights…

CAPA attorneys argued that college football is, for all practical purposes, a commercial enterprise that relies on players’ labor to generate billions of dollars in profits. That, they contend, makes the relationship of schools to players one of employers to employees.

In its endeavor to have college football players be recognized as essential workers, CAPA likened scholarships to employment pay — too little pay from its point of view. Northwestern balked at that claim, describing scholarship as grants.

Giving college athletes employee status and allowing them to unionize, critics have argued, could hurt college sports in numerous ways — including by raising the prospects of strikes by disgruntled players or lockouts by athletic departments.

Here’s the ruling, which is short to begin with and even shorter in pertinent part (pages 14 to 20). Key bit:


The ruling distinguishes walk-ons, who receive no financial benefit from playing and are given more freedom by coaches to behave like normal students, from scholarship recipients, who receive $75,000 or so in tuition and other benefits each year and who are forced to follow employee-like rules set by their bosses/coaches. They’re recruited for football, they spend most of their time on football, and they answer chiefly to the athletic department, not the academic faculty. Put all that together with the fact that their activities generate tens of millions in revenue for the university and ta da — you’ve got an employment relationship. Can’t wait for the first strike during bowl season.

The union isn’t asking for salaries yet. They want better medical care for players, scholarships that cover the “full cost” of attending school, and a trust fund that players could use to help finish their education once their eligibility has expired. The ruling doesn’t affect the NCAA’s own rules, either: Employee or not, you’re still ineligible to play if you take money (that isn’t sufficiently disguised as part of your “scholarship,” that is). Maybe a players’ strike, one no doubt supported by schools with more cash to spend on talent, will change that. Given how short most players’ careers are in the NFL, the urgency monetizing one’s college years is sky high. Makes me wonder, in fact, why a rival for-profit league for players 21 and under hasn’t developed as a competitor to the college system. Maybe there simply isn’t enough infrastructure for it, but if they signed a bunch of top high-school talent, they’d drum up some interest. At the very least, if you want to put pressure on the NCAA to allow salaries in the name of retaining the talent it has, that’d do it.

Ah well, doesn’t matter. Football will be defunct in a few decades anyway. Exit question via Lis Meinecke: If college scholarship students are employees, are high-school scholarship students also employees?

Update: Hmmmmm.