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Can Student Athletes Get Protections without Unionization?

House chairman says labor ruling is “setting a dangerous precedent for colleges and universities nationwide.”

Rodrigo Sermeño


May 12, 2014 - 12:03 am
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WASHINGTON – A university president warned a House panel Thursday about the far-reaching consequences in college sports of a decision by a labor board permitting student-athletes to unionize.

The Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled in late March that Northwestern University’s football players qualify as employees of the university and can unionize. The NLRB decision only applies to private schools that are under its jurisdiction in parts of Illinois and Indiana.

House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) said that the NCAA should do more to protect its student-athletes, including solutions to deliver healthcare that an injured player may need.

“No student athlete injured while representing their school on the field should be left behind because of the misplaced priorities of a college or university,” Kline said. “Does that mean that unionizing student-athletes is the answer? Absolutely not.”

The NLRB in Washington, D.C., granted Northwestern’s request for a full-board review of regional director Peter Sung Ohr’s decision. The school says college athletes are not employees and such a change would transform the landscape of college sports in the United States.

Northwestern’s football players are the first in college sports to seek union representation. Behind the effort is the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) – a union backed by Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA linebacker and vocal supporter for players’ rights. The United Steelworkers’ Association is covering the group’s legal expenses.

Kline said he expects the NLRB to rubber-stamp the regional director’s ruling, “setting a dangerous precedent for colleges and universities nationwide.”

He said the decision raises various concerns for college sports, including how the students would provide financial support to the union.

“Would dues be deducted from scholarships before being disbursed to students, or are students expected to pay out of pocket?” Kline said. “We know many student athletes struggle financially. How will they shoulder the cost of joining a union?”

The committee heard testimony from several witnesses, including an economist, a university president, and a former NFL player and student-athlete. No one from Northwestern or from CAPA was on the witness list.

Baylor University President Ken Starr called the NLRB’s decision “misguided” and questioned whether the decision would create a discrepancy between the schools with the ability to unionize and public schools that may not have the ability.

The players cast ballots April 25 on whether to unionize. But the labor agency has sealed the ballot boxes until a decision on the appeal is announced.

Starr, who as an independent prosecutor led a five-year investigation of President Bill Clinton in the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky scandals in the 1990s, said Baylor’s football and men’s basketball programs subsidize the remaining 17 non-revenue generating sports and to allow players to unionize would lead to program cutbacks and higher tuition rates.

Only 23 Division I schools generated a profit from their athletic programs during the last fiscal year, Starr said. Other schools have to rely on contributions from alumni and university supporters and student fees to support their athletic programs.

“It is reasonable to believe that donors’ gifts to collegiate athletics may decline as student-athletes are legally redefined as university ‘employees’ who earn taxable income,” he said. “While student fees have generally been readily accepted by the student body, this funding source could well become a source of division if students perceive they are paying to provide athletes with enhanced employment-based benefits not available to the general student body.”

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All Comments   (7)
All Comments   (7)
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I always had this mixed students who play for the school’s team. Have you noticed how they get away with so much stuff? Have you also noticed that they can work less hard than others? It always seemed so unfair to me. While some college kids are getting exhausted with writing their thesis statements, athletes can just apply to websites like and everything is going to be just fine for them. I know it is a little aside of topic….but I really wanted to say this for a while already
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
What we need are athletic students, not student athletes.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I say let them have their way and sit back and enjoy the screams of the new union athletes filing their first tax returns, especially for all the freebies they receive including:

whatever salary they receive
the full employer provided amount of their tuition, fees and books
the employer provided extended year housing
the employer provided meals and meal plans
the employer provided wardrobes - and all the fun rules governing those items
the employer provided travel to job sites
the employer provided trainers and gym usage
the employer provided medical care
the employer provided tutoring
the employer provided tickets for family and friends to events
and the employer provided (job) coaching that will help those athletes move into professional leagues.

If regular non-scholarship students must pay for something the university provides to it's athletes at no charge, it is compensation and gets taxed accordingly.

Maybe if I have time today, I'll see if I can figure out what kind of taxes these guys will be paying on their non-cash incomes.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
I can't tell you how much I'd like to see this entire college football thing dismantled and given back to athletes who are actually there to study. College football was plenty popular in the '60s and long before that, when the skill level was far lower. Why? Cuz it was all equal anyway. It's gotten out of hand. Cut the scholarships down to 3 per school and let's see college ball, not drug enhanced farm superathletes for the NFL with no interest in education.

If the NFL wants players, let 'em make a junior league and pay them.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
You can tell who is worried about their profits by the ones who trot out the student-athlete fallacy. There hasn't been legitimate interest in the athlete's studies for near 100 years.

Here is an essay from 1926 that lays it all out. Ignore a few anachronistic phrases and you'd think it was written last week.

Keep in mind this all came about at Northwestern because a player's academic studies were delayed because "practice" interfered with a course his pre-med major required. Notice the priorities of the university, then try to say student-athlete with a straight face.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
100% correct...I'm not a fan of the NLRB generally, and especially as composed under this administration. But in every meaningful way, college athletes are employees of the university first, and students a distant second. It isn't that the NLRB ruled poorly, it is that college athletics is a corrupt system...and it is designed structurally to be a corrupt system.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
There really is no aspect of American life that the "Progressive" movement can't worsen or ruin completely. After a while you want to give up and just let everything go directly to socialism so that these people can experience first hand the inevitable consequences of their illogical belief systems.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
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