Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

NLRB Now Says College Athletes Can't Unionize

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

NLRB Now Says College Athletes Can't Unionize

Article excerpt

CHICAGO * The National Labor Relations Board on Monday blocked a historic bid by Northwestern University football players to form the nation's first college athletes' union, dealing a blow to a labor movement that could have transformed amateur sports.

In a unanimous decision, the board said the prospect of union and nonunion teams in college could lead to different standards at different schools from how much money players receive to how much time they practice and create competitive imbalances on the field.

The ruling annuls a 2014 decision by a regional NLRB director in Chicago who said scholarship football players are employees under U.S. law and thus entitled to organize. But Monday's decision did not directly address the question of whether the players are employees.

Some observers said the ruling effectively ends any chance to establish labor unions in college athletics.

"This puts the nail in the coffin of organizing college players," said Ronald Meisburg, a former NLRB general counsel and onetime board member.

Tim Waters of the United Steelworkers union (which helped bankroll the union drive) disagreed.

"It is a bump in the road," Waters said.

The leader among players of the union-building effort, former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, also expressed disappointment. But he said the push for unionization had already pressured the NCAA to take athletes' grievances more seriously.

"It turned out to be the right thing to do, and I don't regret it," Colter said.

The labor dispute goes to the heart of American college sports, in which universities and conferences reap billions of dollars by relying on amateurs who aren't paid. In other countries, college sports are small-time club affairs, while elite youth athletes often turn pro as teens.

The board's decision was welcomed by the NCAA, which has been fighting lawsuits from former athletes over everything from head injuries to revenue earned from their likenesses in video games.

In a statement, the Indianapolis-based NCAA portrayed the board's ruling as recognition that it's trying to improve conditions for athletes.

"This ruling allows us to continue to make progress . …

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