College Athletics in European
A day after football players at Northwestern University tentatively won the right to unionize, they and the Illinois school dug in for a lengthy legal and political battle that could reshape the multimillion-dollar sports business that U.S. colleges have built around unpaid amateur players.
As politicians and college sports officials warned that athletes’ push to be paid as university employees — rather than be compensated only through scholarships – could lead to calamity at many schools, the issue began to shift to Washington.
That is where the five-member National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will consider Northwestern’s bid to reverse a regional NLRB director’s ruling on Wednesday in favor of the players. The regional director, Peter Sung Ohr, rejected Northwestern’s contention that its football players are amateur athletes and granted the players the right to unionize as school employees.
A date for the Washington appeals hearing has not been set. Northwestern has vowed to explore “all of its legal options” to reverse Ohr’s ruling.
“Our student-athletes are not employees, but students, ” said Alan Cubbage, spokesman for the private university that is just north of Chicago on Lake Michigan.
In Washington, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, a former president of the University of Tennessee, expressed a similar sentiment. “This is an absurd decision that will destroy intercollegiate athletics as we know it, ” Alexander said.
There has been a growing national debate about whether to pay U.S. college athletes, particularly at big-time football programs such as Northwestern. Teams typically earn millions of dollars each season through television contracts, ticket sales and merchandising.
For years, athletes have complained about receiving no compensation beyond their scholarships at a time when the business of major college sports has boomed, with hundreds of millions of dollars in television contracts leading the way.