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Decision on football unionization effort expected in coming weeks

A final ruling could be issued around Aug. 27.

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

It has been nearly 500 days since the National Labor Relations Board Regional Director Peter Ohr ruled in favor of CAPA, the Northwestern football players' union in its legal battle against the University. Some indications point toward a decision finally being rendered by the national board near the end of August, after Northwestern appealed Ohr's decision last spring.

Wall Street Journal article points out that many expect a decision as to whether the Northwestern University football players are employees of the school and thus have the right to unionize to be handed down by Aug. 27. That day, according to the article, is when Republican board member Harry Johnson's term is set to expire. When a member's term expires, the NLRB often issues a rash of decisions.

The NLRB would rule on the University's appeal of Ohr's decision that claimed the football players were employees of Northwestern and could unionize.

The same reasoning was used when reports of a potential decision on the case was expected to be reached in December 2014, when another board member's term ended. The NLRB has yet to issue a ruling.

As far as what the result of the ruling could be, WSJ points out that "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."

While public colleges and universities are beyond the jurisdiction of the private-sector NLRB, the case could jumpstart similar efforts at other private universities. In addition, state labor boards often follow NLRB precedent.

In a recent interview with Inside NU, Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald seemed ready to move on from the union "stuff," as he called it, telling our Henry Bushnell, "I'm pretty much done talking about that stuff ... that's in the rear-view mirror." He went on to say he and his staff wanted to eliminate distractions to the team and that the unionization effort brought unwanted attention to the team.

Morton Schapiro, Northwestern's president, has said the university would appeal a loss in federal court and take the case to the Supreme Court if necessary.