On Aug. 17, the National Labor Relations Board dismissed a petition by Northwestern football players who were seeking to unionize. In a unanimous decision, the NLRB said, “[W]e find that it would not effectuate the policies of the [NLRB] Act to assert jurisdiction in this case, even if we assume, without deciding, that the grant-in-aid scholarship players are employees within the meaning of Section 2(3). As explained below, we address this case in the absence of explicit congressional direction regarding whether the Board should exercise jurisdiction. We conclude that asserting jurisdiction in this case would not serve to promote stability in labor relations. Our decision today is limited to the grant-in-aid scholarship football players covered by the petition in this particular case; whether we might assert jurisdiction in another case involving grant-in-aid scholarship football players (or other types of scholarship athletes) is a question we need not and do not address at this time.”

The NLRB did not decide whether Northwestern’s football players were “employees” under the NLRB Act, but under the ruling the players will not be allowed to unionize.

Alan K. Cubbage, Vice President for University Relations, said in a prepared statement, “Northwestern University is pleased by today’s decision issued by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) … As the University has stated previously, Northwestern considers its students who participate in NCAA Division I sports, including those who receive athletic scholarships, to be students, first and foremost. We applaud our players for bringing national attention to these important issues, but we believe strongly that unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns raised by student-athletes. We are pleased that the NLRB has agreed with the University’s position.

“Northwestern’s position remains that participation in athletics is part of the overall educational experience for our student-athletes, not a separate activity. Therefore, we intend to continue to work with our students, and others, to address the issues regarding the long-term health impact of playing intercollegiate sports, providing additional grant-in-aid support and providing academic support and opportunities for student-athletes.

“The welfare of our student-athletes is paramount here, and we’re very proud of that. We are committed to ensuring their health, safety and well-being and that they are provided with every resource possible to grow and develop as well-rounded individuals. We now need to examine these issues nationally to ensure that student-athletes nationally are provided the same opportunities as those at Northwestern,” Mr. Cubbage continued.

Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern’s head football coach, said “Our young men chose to attend Northwestern to compete on the field at the highest level, earn a world-class education and prepare for the rest of their lives. They have displayed maturity beyond their years through this process, and the experience has unquestionably brought us closer together as a football family. This group posted the highest cumulative GPA in program history during the 2014-15 academic year, earned a record 38 Academic All-Big Ten honors last season and is excited to return to the field this fall to play the game they love and compete for a Big Ten championship.” 

Rep. Jan Schakowsky said in a prepared statement, “I am disappointed by the decision of the NLRB to overturn an earlier ruling allowing Northwestern football players to unionize. 

“The latest NLRB decision is based on the claim that allowing one school’s athletes to unionize would upset competition with other schools – it did not come to a decision as to whether college athletes are employees.

“As I have said in the past, these athletes dedicate 40-plus hours a week to their sport, helping to raise millions of dollars for the University each year.  They deserve to stand on an even playing field with the University in negotiating for better health coverage while they are playing for their school and after their careers end, for guaranteed 4-year scholarships, and for a say in practice time and intensity< continued Rep. Schakowsky. ” This decision denies them that opportunity.”