Explaining the Northwestern Ruling: Talkin' to a Lawyer

Matt Marton-USA; TODAY Sports

With the ruling coming down in favor of the Northwestern college football players early on Wednesday, Jamie reached out to a lawyer for some clarification on the situation, and the potential impact it has on TCU athletics.

A major ruling came down on Wednesday, when a group of Northwestern football players received a ruling in favor of unionizing to receive greater care and protection surrounding football related injuries, as well as more compensation from a scholarship perspective. If you aren't a lawyer, like me, or if you just get tired head reading legal documents, like me, you probably want a little clarification as to what exactly happened. So, I reached out to a lawyer, who wished to remain anonymous, with a few questions.

What essentially happened when the court ruled in favor of the Northwestern players to unionize?

think it's important to point out that today's decision, although very important and impactful, is just the first step towards college athletes receiving adequate compensation for their services to their universities. This decision says that college athletes at private universities are employees and they have the right to form a union.  Based on my reading of the law, I agree with the decision to classify college athletes as employees. This does not mean that college athletes will start receiving salaries tomorrow morning. The players next step will be to vote on whether to formally recognizing the College Athletes Players Association.


To elaborate, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Region 13 hearing officer, Peter Sung Ohr, ruled that college football players receiving scholarships from their university are employees under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  Classifying college football players as employees under the NLRA paves the way for them to unionize.  Allowing college football players the right to unionize enables them to have a strong and united voice when it comes to negotiating contentious issues such as guaranteed coverage of sports related injuries, ensuring better procedures to reduce head injuries and potentially letting players pursue commercial sponsorships.  It will also give college football players the ability to negotiate other contentious issues such as whether college football players should be paid wages or salaries for their services to the university. In addition, it paves the way for college football players to strike if they do not feel their demands are being met.
What kind of appeals process are we looking at?

The decision by the National Labor Relations Board, Region 13 can be appealed to the NLRB's headquarters in Washington D.C.  It would be surprising if this did not happen.

While the Northwestern players weren't unionizing for pay-for-play, but a few other things, how do you think this affects the discussion around paying college players?

This decision is a major victory for college athletes that desire a "seat at the negotiating table" when it comes to issues such as paying players to play.  Today's decision is one major step towards forcing the NCAA, conferences, media outlets and universities to listen to the demands of the athletes.  However, don't expect those in power to get knocked down and not get up fighting.  It's still very early in the fight and there are many more battles to come.

How would changing a football players status officially from "student" to "employee" affect their receipt of scholarships and any other monies they would receive?
I'm not totally sure about this, but I think it's fair to say that changing the player's status from student to employee would set the stage for unprecedented negotiations on a number of issues, including their receipt of scholarships and financial compensation. 
Because this ruling impacts private institutions specifically, what kind of impact does this have on TCU athletics?

It's tough to know exactly how TCU will respond.  This decision sets the foundation for TCU athletes to gain a lot of power; however, it's important not to get too ahead of ourselves.  This was not a decision to pay college football players or to guarantee coverage for sports related injuries at private universities, such as TCU; however, it was definitely a big gain for those who claim that college athletes are entitled to receive a lot more compensation than they currently receive. I would guess that, unless the decision is overturned on appeal, TCU athletes will join the CAPA much like professional football players join the NFLPA. The direct impact on TCU is hard to predict.

Thanks to our lawyer pal for hopping on. If you want an even more in-depth push into what this ruling means for now, and potential for the future, check out Patrick Vint's explanation.

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