CHICAGO – Northwestern University on Friday criticized a federal agency’s landmark ruling giving Wildcats football players the green light to form the nation’s first college athletic union, also confirming that it will appeal.
If it withstands an appeal, the dramatic decision this week by the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago, Peter Ohr, could fundamentally change a college sports industry worth billions of dollars.
Vice President for University Relations Alan Cubbage said in a statement Friday that Ohr had “applied incorrect legal standards.”
“Northwestern believes the decision overlooked or completely ignored much of the critical testimony supporting the University’s position that student-athletes are not employees of Northwestern,” he said.
Reached by telephone later Friday, Ohr declined comment.
The core question Ohr had to answer was whether football players who receive full scholarships to the Big Ten school are employees under federal law and, thereby, are allowed to unionize. In his 24-page opinion, released Wednesday, Ohr concluded the players did “fall squarely” within the broad definition of employee.
The Evanston, Ill.-based university said Friday, as it had immediately after the NLRB ruling, that it will file a request for the full board in Washington, D.C, to review Ohr’s decision. It has until April 9 to file that request.
In the meantime, preparations were underway for a vote by scholarship football players on whether to authorize the College Athletes Players Association, or CAPA, to represent them. A vote normally happens within 30 days of the regional ruling.
Typically, NLRB agents help schedule the voting process according to agreements between the employer and the union-mined employee; its agents would also oversee the vote. One possibility is that the process could be stayed pending a review by the full board in Washington.
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