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Husky Football Blog

The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

March 27, 2014 at 9:48 AM

Morning links: Pac-12’s Larry Scott disagrees with ruling favoring a Northwestern union

Good morning, everyone.

The buzz around college football, of course, now centers on a National Labor Relations Board ruling that Northwestern University scholarship players should be considered “employees,” and thus can decide whether they want to unionize.

From the Chicago Tribune:

The decision also opens the door for athletes with scholarships at public universities to move more quickly to unionize because state labor boards, which govern public universities, usually follow labor law interpretations issued by the NLRB.

There were many questions left unanswered, including whether a union vote among Northwestern players would succeed, but Ohr’s decision is preliminary. Northwestern immediately said it will appeal to the NLRB in Washington, and experts anticipate the case ultimately could be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Yes, this figures to be a long, long process on an important issue, which could alter the fundamental nature of college athletics.

Nationwide reaction has been mixed.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott told The Seattle Times’ Bud Withers: “We disagree with the ruling and believe that health and economic issues raised by student-athletes are best handled as part of the collegiate model, between universities and their students.”

And the NCAA’s chief legal counsel said, “We strongly disagree with the notion that student-athletes are employees.”

More reaction:

Wrote Staples: The person who thinks major college football players — who can typically lose their compensation (scholarship) if they fail to take part in “voluntary” offseason workouts — are employees is Peter Sung Ohr, the regional director of the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board. In a ruling issued Wednesday, Ohr wrote this: “Clearly, the Employer’s players perform valuable services for their Employer. Monetarily, the Employer’s football program generated revenues of approximately $235 million during the nine year period 2003-2012 …”

From ESPN’s Ivan Maisel: There are many questions in what will surely be a long process. Wrote Maisel:

On the grand landscape of legal issues facing intercollegiate athletics — Northwestern, the O’Bannon case — the one that universities ought to be the most concerned about is the antitrust case filed recently by former West Virginia running back Shawne Alston against the five equity conferences.

Alston charged the schools’ refusal to pay the full cost of attendance is a restraint of trade, and it’s hard to imagine how he’s wrong. That’s about $2,000 per athlete per year before you get into treble damages.

In other words, the battle over unionization might be a skirmish compared to what else is out there. Settle in — the next few years might become the most momentous in the history of intercollegiate athletics.

The ruling comes at a time when the N.C.A.A. and its largest conferences are generating billions of dollars, primarily from football and men’s basketball. The television contract for the new college football playoff system is worth $7.3 billion over 10 years, and the current deal to broadcast the men’s basketball tournament is worth $10.8 billion over 14 years.

The decision could give momentum to those who believe the N.C.A.A. should modify its rules on how athletes are compensated. The ruling applies only to scholarship football players at Northwestern, but the precedent could extend to other Division I scholarship football players at similar private universities. (Collective bargaining at public universities is governed by state law, not the N.L.R.B.)

“It’s another brick being taken out of the castle the N.C.A.A. has constructed,” said the ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, a former college basketball player. “It’s not going to stand forever, and we’re getting closer and closer to it tumbling.”



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