Northwestern Football Players Win Right to Unionize

It's the first time that a big-time college football program has won such a right.

By Jamilah King Mar 27, 2014

Northwestern University’s football team made history on Wednesday when its players won the right to unionize. It’s the first time that a big-time college football program has won such a right, and the ruling could upend the world of collegiate athletics, where amateur athletes bring in millions of dollars to universities without being compensated for their work.

Peter Ohr, a regional National Labor Relations Board director, issued a 24-page ruling that essentially demolished the idea of the student athlete, which holds that college players need only to have their educations paid for in exchange for their work on the athletic field.

From the New York Times:

He ruled that Northwestern’s scholarship football players should be eligible to form a union based on a number of factors, including the time they devote to football (as many as 50 hours some weeks), the control exerted by coaches and their scholarships, which Mr. Ohr deemed a contract for compensation.

"It cannot be said that the employer’s scholarship players are ‘primarily students,’ " the decision said.

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.

You can read Ohr’s decision in full here.

Both parties, the university and its football players, have until April 9 to file a review of the decision with the NLRB board in Washington, DC.