- In a Wednesday ruling, the director of the National Labor Relations Board's Chicago office wrote that football players at Northwestern University should be able to unionize.
- Peter Sung Ohr's ruling states that grant-in-aid scholarship players who are still eligible for play count as employees under the National Labor Relations Act, but walk-on players do not.
- Ohr cited factors including services performed for the benefit of the university, compensation received in the form of a scholarship, and being subject to the university's control in their performance as football players as justification for their status as employees.
- This decision is converse to one involving Brown University graduate teaching assistants, who the NLRB ruled weren't employees because their teaching and research duties are "inextricably tied to their graduate degree requirements."
Student-athletes gaining collective bargaining rights could have far-reaching effects if this move gains momentum and unions materialize. Athletic departments are funded separately from colleges and universities themselves, but student-athletes becoming employees could put a strain on those funds. This will hit particularly close to home for schools like Rutgers, where athletic departments are losing money and being kept afloat with the school's general fund.
Can universities in either situation afford, for example, a season-disrupting strike?
Still, universities have long profited from the efforts of their student athletes, from sponsorships to ticket sales, and the argument that they should be recognized as employees is not a new one by any means. Depending on how this latest ruling plays out, the face of college athletics, not to mention entire institutions, could change entirely.