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NLRB decision could have workers' comp implications

In what is being viewed by many as a stunning upset, the Northwestern University football team recently won its challenge before the National Labor Relations Board. In doing so, the players convinced the regional director that they were in fact employees, instead of student-athletes.

It seemed inconceivable that the players could be successful given the traditional and overwhelming sense of amateur status that college athletes have operated under for decades. The love of the game and the opportunity to receive a free college education were the long held justifications for not paying athletes. 

However, the players reportedly put together a compelling presentation that showed them not as football players, but instead as invaluable cogs in a lucrative commercial enterprise. The NLRB’s regional director specifically noted how Northwestern made more than $230 million through its football program between 2003 and 2012. Additionally, the extraordinary amount of control the coaching staff had over many aspects of the players’ lives was an important consideration.

Northwestern will definitely appeal the ruling. Should the school be unsuccessful, the players, as unionized employees, could be entitled to bargain for a number of rights, including workers’ compensation benefits. For as controversial as the notion of paying college athletes has become, the players reportedly are seeking better, and more uniform care, when it comes to treating injuries.

Going forward, the ruling may only affect private universities, such as the University of Southern California, Saint Mary’s and Stanford, but it could also serve as a precedent that other state-based schools could follow. 

Source: ABC “NLRB decision very well-reasoned,” Lester Munson, Mar. 27, 2014

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