By GARY J. CHESTER
A regional office of the National Labor Relations Board has decided that NCAA athletes are employees of the universities for which they engage in athletic competition. While the case, which was instituted by Northwestern University football players, has been appealed, the preliminary decision has ruffled more than a few feathers. The colleges and universities may be on the hook for workers compensation and other benefits that they generally provide to their administrators, professors, physical plant workers and other employees.
But the issue that has struck fear into the NCAA is whether football players and other athletes will form unions and insist on being paid, inasmuch as the two major sports, men’s football and basketball, generate millions of dollars for the universities every year. Some sports reporters, as well as NCAA spokespersons, have expressed concern that the decision, if upheld, will destroy the economic model of college sports. Other observers have opined that the value of an athletic scholarship, while substantial, is dwarfed by the revenue generated by so-called student athletes. I use the term “so-called” because the NCAA invented the term many years ago to try to paint the athletes as something other than employees. In deciding the case, the NLRB applied the legal definition of “employee” to student-athletes and found that the Northwestern football players met the criteria. Basically, the NLRB found that these students performed athletic endeavors on behalf of the university and that their hours and other conditions of the tasks performed were controlled by the university. (In other words, they were not independent contractors who could perform their tasks as they see fit and at times that they could determine.)
Veteran sports journalist Jim Williams, who is known throughout the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Md. metro areas, has reported my analysis on this issue, which threatens the economic model of intercollegiate athletics, on the following site: http://www.pressboxdc.com/2014/04/07/how-will-nlrb-ruling-for-northwestern-affect-college-sports
Enjoy the read and, as always, I invite comment.