By:  Anne D. Harris. Esq.

We recently blogged here about a group of Northwestern University football players who filed a petition for union representation. 

On February 12, 2014, the Board held a hearing on the football players’ petition.  Represented by the College Athletes Players Association (“CAPA”), the football players and Northwestern counsel each provided an opening statement outlining a summary of their respective positions.  CAPA asserted that football players receiving scholarships are employees under the NLRA.  Further, CAPA maintains that these students are under control of the university, receive “payment” in the form of scholarships and generate millions of dollars for the university.  CAPA also argued that while football players are still students, their athletic responsibilities place them in a separate and distinct group appropriately considered “employees.”

In response, Northwestern maintained that football players are not employees under the NLRA and that the Board’s decision in Brown University contains the appropriate test.  In addition, Northwestern questioned CAPA’s status as a labor organization and whether the scope and composition of the proposed unit is appropriate given that many players may or may not be eligible to vote.  Specifically, Northwestern expressed concern over players who already have completed their final year of athletic play but who still receive scholarship benefits, players who receive need-based scholarships, and players who are “walk-on” athletes who do not receive any scholarship to play football.  Lastly, Northwestern asserted that even if these players are “employees” they can only be considered temporary employees under the NLRA. 

The football players’ petition is the first of its kind but it is not likely to be the last.  Athletes of various sports from other colleges or universities may follow in the Northwestern students’ footsteps, including those playing for public colleges and universities that generate significant sums of money from their athletic programs.    

The Northwestern petition hearing will continue on February 18, 2014 at 9:00 a.m. CST during which witnesses will testify.  Stay tuned, as we will continue to provide updated coverage on this issue.