U.S. labor board dismisses Northwestern football players' union bid

Mon Aug 17, 2015 4:52pm EDT
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By Daniel Wiessner and Mica Rosenberg

(Reuters) - Northwestern University football players lost a bid to unionize on Monday when the U.S. National Labor Relations Board dismissed their case, in a setback for elite U.S. student athletes seeking a chunk of the riches generated by college sports.

The case had spurred a national debate over whether college athletes are truly amateurs when colleges and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) benefit handsomely from ticket sales, television contracts and licensing deals.

But in the end, the NLRB's ruling turned on a more technical question: whether it should rule on a case that would overwhelmingly affect state-run colleges and universities, institutions over which it has no jurisdiction.

The Evanston, Illinois-based university is one of just 17 private members of the overwhelmingly state-run 125 teams grouped in NCAA Division I football.

By refraining from deciding whether or not college athletes are employees, the labor agency left the door open for other college athletes from bringing cases for unions in the future.

Northwestern's football program generated revenue of $235 million and $159 million in expenses from 2003 to 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The NCAA reported $872 million in revenue in 2012.

Weighing in on Northwestern's program would inevitably affect the state-run schools, over which the labor agency does not have jurisdiction, the NLRB said.

Employment attorneys warned a decision in the players' favor could have led to a unionization wave in higher-education reaching beyond team sports.   Continued...

Officials from the National Labor Relations Board leave the Northwestern University campus after football players voted to determine if athletes want to form a union in Evanston, Illinois, April 25, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Young