Hey, look — the NLRB is messing with Northwestern again.
In an unprecedented foray into college sports, the National Labor Relations Board has declared that Northwestern University must eliminate “unlawful” rules governing football players and allow them greater freedom to express themselves. The ruling, which referred to players as employees, found that they must be freely allowed to post on social media, discuss issues of their health and safety, and speak with the media.
The new rules apply to the football programs at the 17 private universities that play in the FBS, including schools such as Notre Dame, Stanford and Baylor — but not public universities. As the nation’s top labor agency, the NLRB governs relations between private employers and their employees, so it has no power over public schools. Its findings on Northwestern became public on Friday in response to an ESPN.com Freedom of Information Act request.
Here’s the reason the schools and the NCAA will be shitting bricks:
In addition to granting players greater freedoms, the NLRB ruling will offer athletes a clear path to bring their issues before an independent agency outside of the organizations that have historically governed college athletics — the universities, the conferences and the NCAA.
So while this ruling did not address compensation for athletes, someone could now file a charge with the NLRB asserting that failing to pay players constitutes an unfair labor practice. After all, if the NLRB — which is led by a five-person board and a general counsel, all appointed by the president — declared that close monitoring of social media is an unfair labor practice, it is an open question how it would view failure to pay players. Until now, the issue has been contested only in antitrust courts.
Meaning that an antitrust exemption wouldn’t save them here.
Then again, I guess they could just kick every private school out of the NCAA.