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Though Wednesday's hearing with the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board was largely procedural, attorney John Adam, representing the College Athletes Players Association, called the day the beginning of the end of the current reality for college athletes.
"For too many years, college athletes have been exploited and have been denied the rights as employees," Adam said. "And we believe this is the beginning of the end of that exploitation."
Representing CAPA, Adam began his argument to change that relationship, as Northwestern's football players seek to become the first college athletes to be deemed employees of their university.
Adam argued that players provide services to the university separate from their role as students and that they receive compensation in the form of a scholarship for those duties, meaning they are technically employees under the National Labor Relations Act.
"They are football players, primarily," Adam said. "And that is the main task that they are doing at the university. They also happen to be students, but the two are not mutually exclusive. You can be an employee of the university and be a student."
Alex Barbour, the attorney representing the university, argued that college football players are students, first and foremost. The attorneys representing Northwestern did not speak to the media after the proceedings, but spokesman Al Cubbage reaffirmed the university's position.
"We believe that participation in athletic events is part of the overall educational experience for those students, not a separate activity," Cubbage said. "Northwestern provides extensive academic support for all of its student-athletes, as is evidenced by the fact that Northwestern student-athletes consistently are among the leaders in graduation rates and Academic Progress Rates. Northwestern's football team maintains an overall GPA of over 3.0 and has a graduation rate of 97%, the highest in the country, which is a testament to their academic abilities and confirms their status as students. We do not regard, and have never regarded, our football program as a commercial enterprise."
During the hearing, Barbour said the university thinks a 2004 case in which Brown University teaching assistants were not deemed employees stands as precedent.