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

Marc Edelman

City University of New York - Baruch College, Zicklin School of Business; Fordham University School of Law

Date Written: August 25, 2016

Abstract

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

Edelman, Marc, The Future of College Athlete Players Unions: Lessons Learned from Northwestern University, and Potential Next Steps in the College Athletes Rights Movement (August 25, 2016). Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 38, 2017. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2830150

Marc Edelman (Contact Author)

City University of New York - Baruch College, Zicklin School of Business ( email )

One Bernard Baruch Way
Box B9-220
New York, NY 10010
United States

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States

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