The first thing you need to realize about yesterday’s NLRB ruling

… is that it’s not about the players wanting to get paid.  That’s not to say that it doesn’t represent the biggest threat to the current order that college football faces.  Just that it isn’t about school paychecks for student-athletes.

It’s about control.

Ohr based his conclusion primarily on the enormous revenue and benefit that result from the efforts of the Northwestern football players and on the rigorous control that Wildcats coaches have over the lives of the scholarship athletes. The first thing that Ohr mentioned as he began to explain his decision was that Northwestern enjoyed football revenue of $235 million over the nine years between 2003 and 2012. Clearly impressed with that enormous income, Ohr explained somewhat unnecessarily that the university could use this “economic benefit” in “any manner it chose.” It wasn’t just the money, though, Ohr added. There is also the “great benefit” of the “immeasurable positive impact to Northwestern’s reputation a winning football team may have.” (Ohr did not mention NU’s seven-game losing streak at the end of the past season.)

Ohr also was impressed with the hour-by-hour, day-by-day control that the coaching staff has over players’ lives. He devoted more than 10 pages of his 24-page opinion to a detailed description of practice schedules, workout requirements and coaches’ supervision, including approval of living arrangements, registration of automobiles, control of the use of social media (a player must be connected to a coach), dress codes, restrictions on off-campus travel and demanding study schedules. It was the kind of control, Ohr concluded, that an employer has over an employee, not the kind of control a school has over a student.

That’s why he had so little trouble distinguishing this case from the graduate student case that Northwestern hung its hat on.

Now the NCAA wants to yell otherwise, which makes a certain sense from a PR standpoint, I suppose.

The argument for pay-for-play is much more difficult to make than the argument that players should be allowed to unionize. One of them makes people from across the country say “HEY, I HAD TO PAY FOR COLLEGE! THESE GUYS GO FOR FREE! WHY DO THEY WANT ANYTHING MORE?!?!?!” The other is about making sure people aren’t dying early because of concussions, or aren’t stricken with debt because of injuries suffered while playing games for Big State.

Actually, considering a number of responses I’ve seen in the comments here, it makes a lot of sense.  The thing is, if you look at what CAPA is asking for the right to negotiate over, none of it is tied to a paycheck from a university.  But a lot of it could certainly be construed as shit Nick Saban doesn’t have time for.  And while that’s a real problem for Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern’s AD in the short run, it’s a bigger problem for college athletics in the longer run.


Filed under Look For The Union Label, The NCAA

11 responses to “The first thing you need to realize about yesterday’s NLRB ruling

  1. Deutschland Domiciliary Dog

    The service academies exercise that level of control over its regularly-enrolled students, but not Georgia or other non-military institutions.

    Interesting, though, is that regularly-enrolled cadets at service academies actually do get paid wages: More than $900.00 per month for a first year cadet at West Point.

    I do think the NCAA is in a heap of hurt over this one.


  2. Oh yeah and deservedly so. You reap what you sow.


  3. fatman48

    But aren’t the students that are enrolled in the military academies, sworn into the military, because after they graduate they must serve a minimum of 4 years active duty ? So wouldn’t that be where the $900.00 comes from and not from playing football ? Would these institutions be ousted by the NCAA for professionalism.


  4. Rhymerdawg

    Funny because when I was a cadet at West Point. I got paid $75.00 a month my plebe year (freshman). But then again we are in the employ of the United States Army and can, and have been, required to defend the country as cadets. The difference is that all the cadets get that money due to the fact that we are pwned by the US Army not because we are student-soldiers.


  5. Normaltown Mike

    It’s not the money, why would anyone suggest that?

    It’s not the money they are after….it’s more “funding” for their scholarship. That’s not money.

    It’s not the money they are after….it’s setting up “concussion awareness” protocols that might come in handy just in case a class action lawsuit were to be filed like the NFL veterans just did

    It’s not the money they are after….it’s just “coverage” for medical “expenses”.

    It’s not the money they are after…it’s just an “investment” in programs to ensure that special students who bounce a basketball or throw a football get a degree.

    Of course it’s not the money. It’s “funding” and “investments” and “coverage”. That is TOTALLY not money.


    • Nice straw man. Except that isn’t what I said.

      … Just that it isn’t about school paychecks for student-athletes.

      The lawsuits – O’Bannon and its brethren – are about the money.


      • Normaltown Mike

        “The thing is, if you look at what CAPA is asking for the right to negotiate over, none of it is tied to a paycheck from a university.”

        I followed your link and read the article so we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

        Regardless (or irregardless as our student athletes say), one man’s “investment” and “funding” and “initiative” is another man’s “money”.



    Are they now going to be considered employees of the university or independent contractors? If so then isn’t their scholarship, room and board, meals, uniforms, etc all considered taxable goods and services rendered? Are they now going to get an IRS form 1099 that will require them to pay taxes on this? If that is the case, I would think that what all that cost at Northwestern (and that would be a lot) is going to cause each of these “union members” to have to come up with a hefty sum to pay the taxes on this.


    • Are they now going to be considered employees of the university or independent contractors?

      They aren’t “considered” anything. The ruling says they are employees of Northwestern.


      • Deutschland Domiciliary Dog

        The NLRB’s ruling had nothing to do with the tax status of college athletes’ scholarships, etc., only with whether these Northwestern University football players are employees of the university for purpose of the federal labor laws. The NLRB has no jurisdiction to rule on tax issues and did not purport to make such a ruling here.

        There’s the risk that the Treasury Department might now (or later) try to take the position that football players’ scholarships are taxable wages, subject to federal income tax, withholding, and FICA and FUTA but that is a position entirely independent of the NLRB’s ruling.

        More likely (IMHO) to be problematic is how any increased “employee burden” due to a college football labor player union’s collective bargaining squares with Title IX.