Ryan Field, Northwestern's 49,000 seat football stadium.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)The NLRB has rejected a bid by the football players at Northwestern University to unionize. The decision, ironically, did not decide whether or not the football scholarship players were employees.
The question of whether the scholarship students were in fact employees, is one that may have to be decided on a case by case basis in workers' compensation courts through the US. That issue will only arise if there exist a basis, accident or injury, to create a the the prima facia case for a compensation claim.
The football players are not paid by the university, but 85 of the 112 athletes received a scholarship valued at $61,000.00 per year or more. They are full time students and are required to devote a substantial portion of their time to football.
Northwestern's football program generated $30 Million in revenue in the 2012-2013 academic year. Over a ten year period it generated $235 Million in revenue for the school.
The NLRB did not address or decide the issue of employment status, ie. whether the scholarship players were employees.
"Our decision is primarily premised on a finding that, because of the nature of sports leagues (namely the control exercised by the leagues over the individual teams) and the composition and structure of FBS football (in which the overwhelming majority of competitors are public colleges and universities over which the Board cannot assert jurisdiction), it would not promote stability in labor relations to assert jurisdiction in this case."
***"Despite the similarities between FBS football and professional sports leagues, FBS is also a markedly different type of enterprise. In particular, of the roughly 125 colleges and universities that participate in FBS football, all but 17 are state-run institutions. As a result, the Board cannot assert jurisdiction over the vast majority of FBS teams because they are not operated by “employers” within the meaning of Section 2(2) of the Act."
While the NLRB may have sidelined the employment status issue, it is very doubtful that in the future this issue will merely just "go away." As more attention is focussed on the compensability of head concussions in football and progressive and latent medical concerns from the body contact sport, it is more than apparent that employment status will be a hot issue in workers' compensation courts throughout the nation.
See Northwestern University and College Athletes PlayersAssociation (CAPA), Petitioner. Case 13–RC–121359August 17, 2015