A legal challenge that could potentially help reshape intercollegiate athletics is imminent. Northwestern University football players are the subject of a pending National Labor Relations Board decision in which it will decide whether Wildcat football athletes are school employees who can unionize. A year ago a regional director for the NLRB ruled that they were prompting speculation about the future of varsity sports and the revenues they produce.
Close watchers of the NLRB predict the board, with its Democratic majority, is more likely than not to uphold the regional decision. If so, the players would be eligible to form America’s first college-athletes union…
The case could spur similar efforts at other private institutions and spill over into the public-university realm. While state-supported colleges and universities are beyond the NLRB’s private-sector jurisdiction, state labor boards often follow NLRB precedent, Northwestern’s President Morton Schapiro has warned other colleges.
A positive ruling by the body would raise significant questions about how allowing football players to unionize would affect athletes in non-revenue sports and women in particular, as expressed by Kenneth Dau-Schmidt, a professor and labor law expert at Indiana University Maurer School of Law:
Where there is a positive cash flow in college athletics, it’s usually associated with men’s football and basketball, not other sports. At the bigger schools, men’s football and basketball revenue supports the other athletic programs. Would Title IX mean that the football players have to negotiate benefits for all athletes and not just themselves? That would make for a very curious system of collective bargaining.
The ruling is expected to be issued as August 27 approaches, when Republican member Harry Johnson’s term expires, according to the Wall Street Journal.