Student athletes at Northwestern attempt to unionize

A recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board granted student athletes at Northwestern University the right to unionize.  This decision has critics and supporters questioning the future of college athletics.

Passed late this March, the decision found that Northwestern University football players technically qualify as employees of the school and are entitled to financial compensation and other benefits, such as medical care for sports-related injuries.

Ben McEnroe, head football coach at California Lutheran University, said he will be surprised if the ruling maintains its momentum.

“It could get messy if players start holding out or walking out of practices, things that other labor unions promote. If those things start happening, college coaches are going to have a hard time doing their jobs,” McEnroe said.

McEnroe believes the National Collegiate Athletic Association should some up with a solution that benefits both parties.

“I don’t feel that players necessarily deserve more money, but I do think they are entitled to some money, especially when people are making billions of dollars on video games, apparel and other ‘officially licensed’ products,” McEnroe said.

According to the Al Jazeera news network, the U.S. college athletic industry generates $11 billion in revenue per year, most of which is given to executives of the NCAA as well as to salaried athletic directors and coaching staff. The NCAA prevents student athletes from being paid directly aside from scholarships.

The discrepancy between student athletes’ training and game-play efforts and the profits generated by the athletes that fund university sports staff and other college sports officials are not fresh issues. The right for college athletes to unionize has sparked debate for over 10 years.

Reporter Greg Cote recently wrote an article for the Miami Herald on his opinion of  college football players unionizing.

“There is a distinct David-and-Goliath feel: The Little Player aiming a righteous slingshot at the Big University that reaps millions off his uncompensated labor,” Cote wrote.

Goliath, indeed. Kain Colter, former quarterback for Northwestern and the spokesperson for the unionization campaign, now faces a long process of appeals and revisions from Northwestern University and the NCAA.

Following the decision, a Northwestern University official said in an interview with FOX News that “the students were not employees and that unionization and collective bargaining were not the appropriate methods to address their concerns.”

Meanwhile, future college athletes are excited about the possible revolution. Miles Raymond, a senior at Malibu High School and member of the school’s varsity baseball team, is now more enthusiastic about the potential to play during his upcoming fall semester of college.

“It’s about time college players get recognition for the value they bring to the schools they play for,” Raymond said.

A major caveat of the ruling lies in the limits of its application. Because the Federal Labor Agency does not have jurisdiction over public schools, the decision applies only to private colleges and universities.

Northwestern University plans to file a request for a board review in Washington D.C. It must do so by April 9.


Allison Tade
Staff Writer
Published April 9, 2014