Ball or Nothing

September 30, 2015

After a year-long court battle, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) denied Northwestern University’s appeal to unionize their football team, which dented the players’ ambitions. The appeal  provides a new level of opportunity for other college football teams across the nation. Unionization at the college level resembles the process that clubs go through when creating a constitution.

As a result, Northwestern’s football players did not earn recognition as employees and remain solely students at the school, despite the large number of hours they dedicate to the football program.

Kain Colter, a former Northwestern quarterback, initially proposed the incentive in February of 2014. Colter requested unionization and collective bargaining rights, allowing players, as employees of NU, more say in work conditions.

The NLRB, only able to make decisions for private universities, rejected the appeal partially due to fear that public universities would express discontent at the unfair treatment, in addition to the current rule that players cannot hold the title of employee.  According to the New York Times, as private colleges Stanford and Wake Forest pointed out, only 17 of 125 Division I teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision within the NCAA are private, leaving more need for college equality in the NLRB’s rulings.

Despite these concerns, the College Athletes Players Association and president Ramogi Huma supported Northwestern in their case, giving nationwide attention to unionization attempts and influencing other colleges to follow. Influential football powerhouses, such as Michigan and Ohio, decided that college football teams within the state may not unionize.

Other than legal struggles, a renewed sense of team and accomplishment arose in the Northwestern football program as a result of the court case and ruling, despite the disappointing result.

Talk of unionization began as early as 2013. During the popularity of Johnny Manziel and amidst the argument on whether  EA Sports should have been allowed to use player names in the NCAA series, some schools considered paying college football players for their contributions, due to players’ media publicity for their school.

“I think the players should be able to unionize because they make the NCAA so much money, yet they get none,” junior Sebastian McVadon said. “The NCAA is making a profit.”

Unionization could also take a turn down the wrong path.

“You’re taking amateur athletes and empowering them to be professional,” head football coach Mike Manasco said. “I don’t believe they should be paid but I do believe that they should be compensated more.”

According to SB Nation, unionization could potentially spread from football to other sports, such as Stanford and Boston College basketball. This would  benefit university recruiters and increase player safety, along with more reliable medical insurance. The resulting advantages would attract high school athletes to unionized college teams.

Unionized schools would provide more benefits and securities for high school recruits, according to Coach Manasco, but as of now a looser strategy is in play.

“Now everybody’s choosing colleges based on wins and losses,” Manasco said.

As of now, no further action will take place concerning Northwestern University’s attempts to unionize. Whether or not other NCAA Division I schools will pursue similar ambitions is uncertain.

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