NLRB Rules Against CAPA and Northwestern Football Players

Kain Colter

The National Labor Relations Board ruled Monday against the College Athletes Players Association and group of Northwestern football players looking to unionize.

The board was unanimous in it’s decision, ruling 5-0 against the unionization effort and CAPA. The ruling closes the door on Northwestern’s effort to unionize, but it left it open to the possibility for other college athletes to make a similar attempt.

The NLRB did not determine whether or not the players are statutory employees under the National Labor Relations Act. The board held that asserting jurisdiction over just one team would not promote labor stability in the Football Bowl Subdivision, partly because 108 of approximately 125 FBS teams are state-run entities, falling outside the jurisdiction of the NLRB.

From the ruling: “After careful consideration of the record and arguments of the parties and amici, we have determined that, even if the scholarship players were statutory employees (which, again, is an issue we do not decide), it would not effectuate the policies of the Act to assert jurisdiction. Our decision is primarily premised on a finding that, because of the nature of sports leagues (namely the control exercised by the leagues over the individual teams and the composition and structure of FBS football (in which the overwhelmingly majority of competitors are public colleges and universities over which the Board cannot assert jurisdiction), it would not promote stability in labor relations to assert jurisdiction in this case.

Northwestern’s Vice President for University Relations Alan Cubbage said in a statement that the university is “pleased” by the decision issued by the NLRB.

In the statement, which also included comments from Jim Phillips and Pat Fitzgerald, Cubbage said, “Northwestern considers its students who participate in NCAA Division I sports, including those who receive athletic scholarships, to be students, first and foremost.”

Cubbage added, “Northwestern position remains that participation in athletics is part of the overall educational experience for our student-athletes, not a separate activity. Therefore, we intend to continue to work with our students, and others, to address the issues regarding the long-term health impact of playing intercollegiate sports, providing additional grant-in-aid support and providing academic support and opportunities for student-athletes.”

Kain Colter tweeted out his reaction to the decision as well.

In March of 2014, the NLRB regional director Peter Ohr determined that grant-in-aid scholarship players were employees. Northwestern football players cast secret ballots in the following April, voting on whether or not to unionize, but the results of that vote will never be revealed.

Leave a Reply