Management's Workplace Lawyers

NLRB – College Scholarship Athletes Can Unionize.

March 31, 2014

In a “game-changing” opinion by a Regional Director for the National Labor Relations Board, Northwestern University, scholarship football players at Northwestern University were deemed to be “employees” under the National Labor Relations Act, and are therefore able to unionize.  Using a common-law test for employee status, the Regional Director determined that these players performed a service (playing football) for compensation (scholarship money), and that this arrangement constituted a “contract for hire.”  Moreover, these services were subject to the University’s right of control (required workouts, restrictions on personal activities, and other applicable regulations).  The Regional Director found that the players were not primarily students, due to the 50-60 hours a week devoted to football, and that such activities were separate from the academic degree program.  The University has announced that it will appeal the decision to the full Board.  If upheld, this decision could have significant effect on the entire structure of college athletic programs.