As you might have heard, a ruling came down in the Northwestern football players union case, and, to the surprise of many, the Northwestern football players won:
Excerpt of Regional Board's ruling on Northwestern football players:"Players receiving scholarships to perform football-related services.."— Gabe Feldman (@SportsLawGuy) March 26, 2014
"for the Employer under a contract for hire in return for compensation are subject to the Employer’s control and are therefore employees"— Gabe Feldman (@SportsLawGuy) March 26, 2014
Not only did they win, they won on every angle they covered:
Waters: "The board ruled in (the players') favor on every question."— Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan) March 26, 2014
John Adam, CAPA lawyer tells me it's a "complete victory" for the union. Will hear more from him soon.— Rohan Nadkarni (@Rohan_NU) March 26, 2014
So what does this all mean?
1. Northwestern football players are employees, in the eyes of the government board whose job it is to decide whether or not a person is an employee. Their scholarship constitutes payment, and because of this scholarship, they are asked to perform certain non-academic activities that, if neglected, could lose them their payment. This is, in essence, a full-time job.
2.. Northwestern football players, as employees, can vote to form a union. This union could hypothetically bargain for things such as practice hours or medical precautions with Northwestern University. Many have speculated that they would bargain for compensation in the form of payment, but as of now, the hypothetical union does not seem to have plans to bargain for this.
3. Northwestern University will almost assuredly appeal the ruling, a process that could take a long time. They'll appeal to the national board of the NLRB -- this was just the Chicago office. Many believe, considering the publicity around the case, that it will end up in front of the Supreme Court or a Congressional hearing.
If Northwestern were to decide not to appeal, the athletes could start unionizing right away. However, they have made it clear they intend to appeal. This means there will probably be some time before anything happens, but one more obstacle in the way of something happening has been torn down.
4. Former NU president Henry Bienen made the argument that Northwestern would probably stop offering Division I sports if college football players were ruled to be employees.
With all due respect to Pres. Bienen, I have a strange feeling that NU will come to terms with athletes over concussion prevention or extending medical benefits before they decide to axe something that serves as the school's biggest moneymaker, most noticeable aspect of school spirit/identity, and one of its biggest drivers of donations. I would find it very odd if Northwestern openly admitted they were so passionate about making people suffer that they were willing to sacrifice millions of dollars.
5. A few weeks ago, people pointed out that Northwestern was a bad test scenario for a union battle. Because Northwestern "does the right thing" in so many ways. Because Northwestern athletes graduate and get good jobs.
First off, those people were wrong. College football's system is broken everywhere, even at a school like Northwestern where the people in charge tried gluing it together and put a bunch of duct tape over the cracks.
I took another stance: I pointed out that, yes, those aspects will make the case Kain Colter and others tried to present difficult, and hence made Northwestern a "bad" test case. But I pointed out that if the board agreed with them that they were, in fact, employees, it would have kinda wide-sweeping ramifications for the rest of football. If NU's doing-every-thing-the-right-way system could be described as employment, holy crap, the labor board would not wait even a heartbeat to rule the same way about every single team in college football.
For a long time, the NCAA has treaded on incredibly thin ice, as they try to to stay alive as an organization that makes money off athletes without really caring about their education or health. Over the past five years, people have started lined up with jackhammers to start to get this ice cracking.
Northwestern's football players have not yet cracked that ice, but they've given permission to get to jackhammering.