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Bozeman Daily Chronicle

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A national organization representing college and university presidents on Thursday disputed a federal ruling that students who receive college athletic scholarships are essentially employees of their schools and thus entitled to join unions and exercise collective-bargaining rights. But labor organizations took the other side of the issue.

"Student-athletes participate for their own benefit; they do not render services for compensation," said the 1,800 member American Council on Education. They "are not employees and therefore not subject to the National Labor Relations Act."

Ahead of a midnight deadline, the council filed a 30-page friend-of-the court brief taking strong issue with the ruling earlier this year by a National Labor Relations Board regional director that allows college athletes at Northwestern University to unionize. It was one of several briefs filed on both sides of the debate.

The full labor board is weighing the case.

Northwestern University asked the labor board to overturn the ruling, saying that its Chicago-region director "overlooked or ignored key evidence that Northwestern presented showing that its student-athletes are primarily students, not employees."

Instead the regional director's decision "relied incorrectly on a common-law definition of employee that considered the amount of control an employer has over an employee," said Northwestern, which is located in Evanston, Illinois.

In its own brief, the fledgling College Athletes Players Association argued that Northwestern football is a commercial enterprise from which the university derives substantial financial benefits. "They are entitled to representation.... The regional director's decision should be affirmed," the union said.

At its core, the players' union said, "this case involves the same questions that arise in every representation case: Do the players perform services for the university? Do they work under the university's supervision and direction? Do they receive compensation for their work? "

July 5, 2014
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