Northwestern football players can't unionize, will continue to be exploited


It’s not even controversial at this point to call the NCAA, or National Collegiate Athletic Association, a cartel. Forbes did it. NPR debated it. The New York Times (opinion page) even did it, in 2011! It is not news that, as the Times writes, “the N.C.A.A.’s real role is to oversee the collusion of university athletic departments, whose goal is to maximize revenue and suppress the wages of its captive labor force, AKA the players.” It’s pretty messed up that, while the NCAA rakes in billions and billions in revenue, the players don’t see a dime.

In the fight for fair wages and health benefits (particularly important for football players), unions play an instrumental role. Kain Colter, a quarterback for Northwestern from 2010-2013, knew this when he drove to unionize the Northwestern football team in the year following his graduation. The regional director of the National Labor Review Board’s branch in Chicago ruled in favor of the College Athletes Players Organization in March of 2014, saying the players’ roles fell under the definition of an employee. The case then needed to reach the national stage of review, and today, the NLRB reversed that decision.

Via Bloomberg:

In its unanimous decision, the labor board skirted the issue of whether the players are employees and left open the door to other college athletes winning the right to unionize.
The board cited the unique nature of college sports in saying it would foster instability to permit Northwestern football players to form a union while players elsewhere in the National Collegiate Athletic Association are not.
“Our decision is primarily premised on a finding that because of the nature of sports leagues…it would not promote stability in labor relations to assert jurisdiction in this case,” the decision said.

The legitimization of a union within the NCAA could have been a major step in disarming the NCAA’s exploitative model, perhaps the most important step yet. Instead, we have quotes like this from Vice President for University Relations Alan K. Cubbage at Northwestern:

“Northwestern’s position remains that participation in athletics is part of the overall educational experience for our student-athletes, not a separate activity.”

Northwestern football pulled in over $27 million in revenue in 2011-2012. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald makes about $2 million a year.

Michael Rosen is a reporter for Fusion based out of Oakland.

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