As reported in USA Today, Peter Sung Ohr, the regional director of the NLRB has ruled that the scholarship football players at Northwestern University, a private school in the NCAA's Big Ten athletic conference, are in fact employees of the school; that their scholarships are in fact compensation, and as a result these collegiate football players have the right to unionize. Representing the players in this action was the College Athletes Players Association ("CAPA") which is funded by the United Steelworkers.
Northwestern plans to appeal the decision to the NLRB in Washington, DC. "While we respect the NLRB process and the regional director's opinion, we disagree with it," said Alan Cubbage, the vice president for university relations. Cubbage went on to state that the school views the student-athletes as students, not employees: "Unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns raised by student-athletes."
Donald Remy, chief legal officer for the NCAA expressed disappointment with the 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..."
To put things into perspective, ESPN reports that in 2008 collegiate sports earned 120 schools over $5.63 Billion (that's with a "B") in revenue coming from ticket sales, donations, media rights, branding and other sources. Revenue from ticket sales was the largest single source (20.3 percent) followed by donations (18.4 percent) then student fees (5.9 percent). Branding and media rights only made up 5.2 percent and 2.5 percent respectively. Expenses in 2008 for collegiate sports for these same 120 schools totaled $5.39 Billion (again with a "B") leaving these schools on average with a net profit of $2 Million annually.
While not surprising that Northwestern takes this view, neither is it surprising that what was left unsaid by Cubbage or any other representative of the school or the National Collegiate Athletic Association is how this ruling, again if it stands up against certain multiple appeals, when combined with the discovery that the NCAA knowingly allowed EA Sports to use collegiate players' likeness in its video games, and the concussion lawsuits the NCAA is now facing, could be the fuel and sparks that finally derails the economic gravy train the NCAA and its member schools have been enjoying since the NCAA was formed in 1910, at the expense of the players whose hard work, injuries and "love of their sport" make possible in the first place.