The Future of College Athlete Players Unions: Lessons Learned from Northwestern University, and Potential Next Steps in the College Athletes Rights Movement
36 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2016 Last revised: 8 Jul 2017
Date Written: August 25, 2016
On January 28, 2014, the Northwestern University football players filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board seeking to become the first group of college athletes to form a union. Although the National Labor Relations Board’s Thirteenth Region concluded that Northwestern University grant-in-aid college football players constituted “employees” under the National Labor Relations Act, the National Labor Relations Board Commissioners nevertheless declined to assert jurisdiction because they believed the proposed bargaining unit would not “promote stability in labor relations.”
This article explores the future prospects for organizing Football Bowl Series football and Division I men’s basketball players after the National Labor Relations Board’s decision in Northwestern University. Part I of this article provides a brief overview of U.S. labor law and introduces the unique labor dynamics of big-time college sports. Part II explores labor organizers’ recent attempts to unionize the grant-in-aid football players on the Northwestern University college football team. Part III describes potential strategies for unionizing alternative bargaining units of elite college athletes. Finally, Part IV analyzes the interplay between unionizing college athletes and challenging the NCAA’s restraints on college athlete pay under Section 1 of the Sherman Act.
Keywords: sports law, labor law, college athletes, college athlete union, NCAA, antitrust law, Northwestern University, NLRB, employee, union, unionize, NLRA, National Labor Relations Act, college sports
JEL Classification: K31, E2, E24, J48, J5, J7, Z2, Z22, Z20, A2, A75, L8, K00, K2, K21, K30
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation