In a groundbreaking decision, the Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board has decided that members of the Northwestern Wildcat football team qualify as employees of the university and can form a union, ESPN reports. A former Wildcats quarterback, Kain Colter, and the United Steelworkers Union, who footed the bill, brought the case before the NLRB.
The NLRB regional director deemed that the players were more like university employees because of the time commitments placed on them and the fact that their scholarships were tied to performance on the field. They will be given the opportunity to vote to be represented by the College Athletes Players Association. In an interview with ESPN, Colter stated that nearly all of the 85 scholarship players on the team backed the bid to unionize.
Northwestern University, with the support of the National Collegiate Athletic Association and The Big Ten conference, plans to appeal the decision to the national NLRB.
“While we respect the NLRB process and the regional director's opinion, we disagree with it,” the statement read. “Northwestern believes strongly that our student-athletes are not employees, but students. Unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns raised by student-athletes.”
Head coach Pat Fitzgerald maintained that academics always come first, pointing to the team's 97% graduation rate - one of the highest in the country. A university attorney stated that Northwestern is not exactly a “football factory” - they're 2013 season ended with 5 wins, 7 losses.
What happens when athletes unionize? Lockouts and strikes. Antagonistic relationships between coach and player. And the NLRB wants to give these responsibilities to teenagers who have just left home for the first time? How do people honestly think an eighteen-year-old would handle this newfound power over his coach?
This is just the beginning: union membership across the country is dwindling - at a low of 11.3% nationwide - so unions are looking into new areas to grow their base. They've found it in young, impressionable athletes from the “me” generation. How transparent.