In their attempt to unionize college athletes, the Northwestern football players and the recently formed College Athletes Players Association scored a major victory on Wednesday.
In a decision that could eventually have a major impact on the future of college athletics, Peter Sung Ohr, the regional director of the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board, ruled the Northwestern players under the CAPA have the right to unionize against their university.
Kain Colter, Northwestern's former quarterback and the leader of the CAPA had this to say following the ruling:
So proud of my teammates, Ramogi, lawyers, and supporters around the nation! This is a HUGE win for ALL college athletes! #APU— Kain Colter (@KainColter_2) March 26, 2014
"Ramogi" refers to Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA linebacker who is the founder and president of the National College Players Association. Huma helped Colter found the CAPA in January 2014.
Colter followed up his first tweet with this:
As I have ALWAYS stated, I have nothing but LOVE for @coachfitz51 and Northwestern. Best coach in college football #B1GCats— Kain Colter (@KainColter_2) March 26, 2014
The NCAA, as you might guess, was not as happy:
Re union ruling: No need to completely throw away a system that has helped millions of students attend college: http://t.co/TKBdgF6WKf— Inside the NCAA (@InsidetheNCAA) March 26, 2014
Also disagreeing with the ruling was the Big Ten and other major conferences. The Big Ten released a statement that read: "While we respect the process followed by the National Labor Relations Board, we disagree with the ruling. We don't believe that student-athletes are university employees. The issues raised during the hearings are already being discussed at the national level, and we believe that students should be a part of the conversation."
As ESPN reported, "It was a sentiment shared by all of the big NCAA conferences, including the SEC."
"Notwithstanding today's decision, the SEC does not believe that full time students participating in intercollegiate athletics are employees of the universities they attend," Michael Slive, the SEC commissioner, said in a written statement.
Other critics argue that allowing college athletes to unionize could hurt college sports in other ways -- including by raising the prospects of strikes by disgruntled players or lockouts by athletic departments.
The ruling comes less than two weeks after the university and CAPA submitted their briefs to Ohr for his consideration. According to the USA Today, "Northwestern released a statement on the precedent-setting decision, saying that it is disappointed in the ruling and plans to appeal to the National Labor Relations board in Washington, D.C."
More from USA Today:
Tim Waters, the political director of the United Steelworkers, who are funding CAPA in this endeavor, called it a "complete victory" for the players, saying that "the board ruled in their favor on every question."
The main question is whether the athletes are employees, but Ohr also ruled in favor of CAPA on other smaller questions, including whether CAPA is a labor organization and whether the unit of players represented is appropriate.
Other supporters include the Drake Group, a group of faculty members from colleges around the country, who said in a statement: "The unionization of college athletes is a natural outgrowth of the NCAA’s 1973 decision to replace four- year scholarships with one-year renewable grants that can be canceled for just about any reason."
So just what is the impact of all this?
Clay Travis, a popular sports blogger and Fox Sports Columnist who holds a law degree explained it well:
The ruling is limited to students who attend private institutions and are, henceforth, subject to the National Labor Relations Board if they also seek to unionize. Public school athletes would be governed by state law, which, given that 24 states, including most of the South, are right-to-work jurisdictions, means that the vast majority of major college football teams could not unionize as Northwestern has. The Southeastern Conference, for instance, has just one private institution among its 14 schools.
You can read Travis' entire breakdown here.
While Wednesday's ruling is a major victory for the CAPA, this case is far from over. Many speculate it could eventually reach the United States Supreme Court and it could be years before a decision is reached.