According to a decision handed down by federal agency the National Labor Relations Board, college athletes are technically employees, compensated with scholarships

By Curt Cramer

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In a revolutionary court decision Wednesday, the National Labor Relations Board ruled to allow college football players at Northwestern University in Illinois to be able to organize in the first ever potential college sports union.

The union, named the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA), has goals including seeking coverage for sports-related medical expenses for current and former players, reducing head injuries through research, and potentially letting players pursue commercial sponsorships.


The regional director of the NLRB, Peter Sung Ohr, announced that college football players “fall squarely” within the definitions of being an employee, which by law is defined as anyone who receives compensation for a service under direct control of a manager, allowing for the potential to unionize. Ohr concluded that in the case of Northwestern, scholarships are said compensation and coaches are managers.

“It’s like preparing so long for a big game and then when you win – it is pure joy,” said former UCLA linebacker Ramogi Huma, the designated president of Northwestern’s potential football players’ union (AP).

He, alongside other supporters of the bid to unionize, claim the university’s football program outweighs the academics programs for the players in question. The NLRB regional director consequently agreed. In his statements he said, “the record makes clear that the employer’s scholarship players are identified and recruited in the first instance because of their football prowess and not because of their academic achievement in high school,” much like resume requirements for a specific job.

Critics argue that the prospect of strikes and lockouts becomes an issue if players are allowed to unionize. The NCAA filed a written statement disagreeing with today’s ruling, stating, “We frequently hear from student-athletes, across all sports, that they participate to enhance their overall college experience and for the love of their sport, not to be paid.”

NCAA President Mark Emmert has been pressing for a $2,000-per-player stipend to help athletes with expenses, but unionization supporters and critics of the current NCAA treatment claim that is not enough with how much athletes rake in for schools. One of the most outspoken happens to be the Northwestern Wildcats’ kicker, Kain Colter, the leading pursuer of the CAPA, who responded to today’s ruling with “we won!”

“With the sacrifices we make athletically, medically and with our bodies, we need to be taken care of,” Colter told ESPN. In court he proclaimed, “You fulfill the football requirement and, if you can, you fit in academics.” When asked why exactly he was given a scholarship to Northwestern to the tune of $75,000 a year, his response was: “To play football. To perform an athletic service.”

Every major NCAA conference, including the SEC, has disagreed with the decision thus far. Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald also took the stand, testifying on the behalf of the opponents of the union.

Ramogi Huma said scholarship players would vote within 30 days on whether to formally authorize the CAPA to represent them.

-Curt Cramer (@CurtisRemarc)