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College athletes can unionize, federal agency says

March 26, 2014 at 3:02 p.m.
Updated March 25, 2014 at 10:26 p.m.


CHICAGO (AP) - In a stunning ruling that could revolutionize college sports, a federal agency said Wednesday that football players at Northwestern University can create the nation's first union of college athletes.

The decision by a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board answered the question at the heart of the debate over the unionization bid: Do football players who receive full scholarships to the Big Ten school qualify as employees under federal law and therefore can legally unionize?

Peter Sung Ohr, the NLRB regional director, said in a 24-page decision that the players "fall squarely" within the broad definition of employee.

"It's like preparing so long for a big game and then when you win - it is pure joy," said former UCLA linebacker Ramogi Huma, the designated president of Northwestern's would-be football players' union.

An employee is regarded by law as someone who, among other things, receives compensation for a service and is under the strict, direct control of managers. In the case of the Northwestern players, coaches are the managers and scholarships are a form of compensation, Ohr concluded.

The Evanston, Ill., university argued college athletes, as students, do not fit in the same category as factory workers, truck drivers and other unionized workers. The school announced plans to appeal to labor authorities in Washington, D.C.

The next step would be for scholarship players to vote on whether to formally authorize the College Athletes Players Association, or CAPA, to represent them, according to the decision.

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