CHICAGO (AP) — In a stunning ruling that has the potential to revolutionize college athletics, a federal agency said today that football players at Northwestern University can create the nation's first college athlete's union.
The decision by a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board means it agrees football players at the Big Ten school qualify as employees under federal law and therefore can legally unionize.
The Evanston, Ill-based university argued college athletes, as students, don't fit in the same category as factory workers, truck drivers and other unionized workers. The school plans to appeal to labor authorities in Washington, D.C.
Outgoing Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter took a leading role in establishing the College Athletes Players Association, or CAPA, which would take the lead in organizing the players. The United Steelworkers union has been footing the legal bills.
Colter, whose eligibility has been exhausted and who has entered the NFL draft, said nearly all the 85 scholarship players on the Wildcats roster backed the union bid, though only he expressed his support publicly.
CAPA attorneys argued that college football is, for all practical purposes, a commercial enterprise that relies on players' labor to generate billions of dollars in profits. That, they contend, makes the relationship of schools to players one of employers to employees.