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College Football Players Not Interesting to Board

We previously wrote that the Chicago Regional Office of the National Labor Relations Board (“Region”) determined scholarship football players at Northwestern University (“Northwestern”) were employees and could unionize. In a huge win for Northwestern, the National Labor Relations Board (“Board”), on appeal, decided there was no value in deeming college football players employees and reversed!

Where the Region analyzed whether college football players are “employees” and therefore able to unionize, the Board took a wildly different approach. The Board basically held it would not assert jurisdiction because the case “would not serve to promote stability in labor relations” and the policies of the National Labor Relations Act would not be furthered by the Board asserting jurisdiction over the case.

Given the Board’s many radical decisions in recent years expanding its scope and power, the Board’s decision is refreshing in its reliance on good old common sense. The Board characterizes the players as “students who are also athletes receiving a scholarship to participate in what has traditionally been regarded as an extracurricular activity.”  This contrasts the Region’s characterization of college football players as people who perform “services for another under a contract of hire, subject to the other’s control or right of control, and in return for payment.”  The Board discussed the history of college football, dating back to the late 19th century, and stated they have never been asked to assert jurisdiction over this American pastime.  In fact, they have never received a union representation petition for a college team – ever.  They distinguished college football players from graduate students who work in a variety of jobs on college campuses and over whom the Board has asserted jurisdiction.  For now, this is a big win for college football.  Go Team!

Brody and Associates regularly advises its clients on union-related matters and provides union-free training. If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.454.0560.