College Football Players are Employees, National Labor Relations Board Says

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The National Labor Relations Board has issued a memorandum that could lead to significant changes in the way NCAA member colleges and universities treat their athletes in the future.

College Football Players are Employees, National Labor Relations Board Says

The memorandum, dated January 31, basically states that in any and all future litigation brought to the NLRB by athletes at certain colleges and universities alleging unfair labor practices by those colleges and universities, the NLRB will treat those athletes as employees of those colleges and universities.

The key to understanding this memorandum is understanding the context of what qualifies a school to make it one of those “certain” colleges and universities.

Which Universities Do and Don’t Fit Into This Classification

The NLRB does not have jurisdiction over public colleges and universities, therefore the vast majority of FBS schools are exempt from this classification. Additionally, Division I FCS schools, Division II and Division III institutions are not included either. The only class of schools that this new prosecutorial position apply to are Division I FBS colleges and universities. Those schools are:

  • Baylor
  • Boston College
  • BYU
  • Duke
  • Miami(Florida)
  • Northwestern
  • Notre Dame
  • Rice
  • Southern Methodist
  • Stanford
  • Syracuse
  • TCU
  • Tulane
  • Tulsa
  • USC
  • Vanderbilt
  • Wake Forest

Scholarship football players, or anyone acting on their behalf, at these institutions can now bring complaints before the NLRB against their school for any practice that they deem to be a violation of the National Labor Relations Act. That’s the federal legislation which enforces the rights of employees, as individuals and unions, and governs the mediation of disputes between those employees and their employers.

The logic for the ruling was simple. Private schools fall within the NLRB’s jurisdiction, and the NLRB defines an employee as anyone who “receives compensation from the institution and performs services under the direction of an agent of the institution.” That’s a succinct definition of the normal activity of a scholarship football player.

What Happens Now at These 17 Schools

It’s unknown whether any individual players, groups of players or player advocates have any plans to file NLRA complaints with the NLRB in the near future. Fans should understand that just because a complaint is filed with the NLRB doesn’t guarantee that the NLRB will take any action on the complaint or find in the pursuant’s favor. All this memo means is that it’s now possible for football players at these 17 schools to file complaints.

It’s probably likely that athletic departments at these 17 schools are now familiarizing themselves with the language of the NLRA, as it’s a set of new standards that they would be wise to ensure that they are in compliance with. Even with that familiarization in process, it’s going to be difficult for athletic departments to anticipate all the potential consequences of this development.

If and when a player, group of player or player advocate brings a complaint before the NLRB for the first time, fans will be more aware of just how much this position could change the landscape of major college football. Until then, this is simply a matter of internal procedure for the NLRB.

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Derek Helling is a freelance writer who covers the intersections of sport and business, culture and law. He graduated from the University of Iowa in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, double-majoring in Journalism & Mass Communications and Sport Studies. As a fan, he follows Hawkeye athletics, Major League Baseball, the Florida Panthers and the Miami Heat.

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