College Athletes Win Legal Battle to Unionize: Latest Updates and Reaction

R. Cory Smith@@RCorySmithSenior Writer IMarch 26, 2014

Matt Marton/USA Today

Updates from Saturday, June 21

ESPN's Tom Farrey has an update on Northwestern's mindset toward the unionization:

Updates from Thursday, May 1

Inside Northwestern provides an update on the developing situation surrounding Northwestern athletes' attempt to unionize:

Updates from Saturday, April 26

ESPN's Darren Rovell provides comments from Northwestern center Branon Vitabile:

Before January, when this all started, we didn't hear of anyone on our team who asked for something and didn't get it," Vitabile said. "So I'm not sure why we needed to change anything.


"No coach or anyone from the school ever threatened us," said Vitabile, who has started in 38 straight games. "And that whole idea that someone who voted pro-union wouldn't play or would get penalized in any way was total nonsense."


"I understand the assumption people make that all student-athletes are mistreated, but the majority of us realize we're not in that group," Vitabile said. "What me and a lot of our teammates discovered is that the change wouldn't happen here. It would happen on the broad landscape. So why would we sacrifice all the relationships we have here with the staff and the university that we love? A program and university that, as of a team, all of us have been given everything we were promised."

Updates from Friday, April 25

According the Associated Press, Northwestern's union vote went off as expected, although it could be some time before results are known: 

In a historic vote, Northwestern football players cast secret ballots Friday on whether to form the nation's first union for college athletes - a decision that could change the landscape of American amateur sports.


Results of the unprecedented vote won't be revealed any time soon. After the vote, the ballot boxes will be sealed for weeks or months - perhaps even years - as the university challenges the effort to unionize the football team.

Chris Emma of Scout.com has initial reports on the vote totals:

Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports reports that one former player believes the school is pressuring players to vote no:

Michael Odom, a sophomore who quit the team following the 2013 season, said the Wildcats administration is basically telling players they would betray the school by voting "Yes" in Friday's National Labor Relations Board vote.

"Which I think is really wrong,' said Odom, who was on campus and stopped to talk with dozens of reporters.

"I know a lot of my teammates had letters sent to their parents' emails urging them to say no," Odom added. "The administration has been heavily kind of trying to guilt-trip the players into not voting and there have been speeches from other administrators."

Odom, who stressed he's no longer on the team and is going by what his former teammates have told him, said the players likely will vote "No" because, "I think a lot of them have been successfully talked out of voting yes. It's unfortunate."

Updates from Thursday, April 24

ESPN's Tom Farrey and Lester Munson report on the latest major development in Northwestern's case:

The National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C., has granted Northwestern University's request to review the decision made by the regional office recognizing the school's football players as employees, according to NLRB director of public affairs Gregory King.

A previously scheduled vote by Northwestern football players on whether to unionize could go forward Friday but ballots would be impounded for now and only opened if the board sides with the players.

The Friday vote would represent a historic moment in college sports -- but mostly provides a chance for athletes to have a voice in their own reform effort.

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Updates from Wednesday, April 9

Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian spoke to Teddy Greinstein of the Chicago Tribune about possible unionization:

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald calls starting quarterback Trevor Siemian “our leader … it’s his football team."

 Siemian on Wednesday used that platform to explain why he will vote no to unionizing on April 25.

“We filed for employee cards (Jan. 28), but that doesn’t mean a union is the right avenue,” he said. “Especially at Northwestern, where most guys on the team agree we have been treated very, very well. I’m treated here far better than I deserve.”

Updates from Sunday, April 6

ESPN's John Gasaway provides a statement from NCAA president Mark Emmert discussing the notion of college athletes unionizing:

Emmert spoke more about the process (via Dan Wolken of USA Today):

The NCAA is not a party to that conversation. We're not officially in that process. I fully anticipate, depending on the kinds of outcomes produced (in the appeals process) it will likely proceed to the national NLRB and then go to the courts so it will be a long, drawn-out, multi-year debate that goes on. No one has sat down and figure out what a contingency plan would be.

Wake Forest president Nathan Hatch also talked about the situation (via Mark Long of Associated Press):

Updates from Saturday, April 5

ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg provides Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald's take on the players unionizing:

Fitzgerald broke his silence Wednesday after conferring with university attorneys. He had been unable to address the topic since January when Northwestern players, led by former quarterback Kain Colter, filed a petition with the NLRB to unionize. Fitzgerald read a letter to players and sent it to their parents, and has since addressed the topic another time.

"I believe it's in their best interests to vote no," Fitzgerald said Saturday following a team practice. "With the research that I've done, I'm going to stick to the facts and I'm going to do everything in my power to educate our guys. Our university is going to do that. We'll give them all the resources they need to get the facts."

Updates from Wednesday, April 2

The Associated Press reports that a date has been set for a vote on authorizing a union among the Northwestern football players: 

A federal agency says a date has been set for Northwestern football players to vote on authorizing a union to represent them in collective bargaining with the university.

A spokesman for the National Labor Relations Board confirmed Wednesday that the vote is scheduled for April 25.

The players will cast ballots on whether to organize under the College Athletes Players Association, known as CAPA. CAPA took the lead in pushing for the right to form the nation's first college athletes' union at Northwestern.

Updates from Thursday, March 27

ESPN's Darren Rovell provides an interesting statement on the potential tax implications that may come along with players being treated as employees:

"It appears like the case brought forward by the players focused on things other than the potential tax implications," said Garrett Higgins, a partner at O'Connor Davies in the firm's Exempt Organization Tax and Advisory Services group. "The fact that the players were not considered employees in the past is essentially the reason why their scholarship or parts of it weren't taxed before. The IRS may be able to make the argument that the scholarship is really payment for services, and therefore compensation, and is now taxable to the athlete."

Sam Werner of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette provides a statement from the University of Pittsburgh on the prospect of student-athletes being considered university employees:

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney also spoke about the news (via Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier):

We've got enough entitlement in this country as it is. To say these guys get nothing totally devalues an education. It just blows my mind people don't even want to quantify an education.

I didn't get into coaching to make money - coaches weren't making any money when I got into coaching. It's what I wanted to do with my life, and I was able to do it because of my education. That's what changed my life. That's what changes everybody's life.

Original Text

Following a long battle over whether college athletes should be allowed to form a union, the National Labor Relations Board ruled on Wednesday that certain Northwestern University football players are employees of the university and thus have the right to unionize if they so choose.

United Steelworkers political director Tim Waters reported the news via his Twitter account:

The NCAA released a statement about the decision on its website from Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy:

While not a party to the proceeding, the NCAA is disappointed that the NLRB Region 13 determined the Northwestern football team may vote to be considered university employees. We strongly disagree with the notion that student-athletes are employees.

We frequently hear from student-athletes, across all sports, that they participate to enhance their overall college experience and for the love of their sport, not to be paid.

Over the last three years, our member colleges and universities have worked to re-evaluate the current rules. While improvements need to be made, we do not need to completely throw away a system that has helped literally millions of students over the past decade alone attend college. We want student athletes – 99 percent of whom will never make it to the professional leagues – focused on what matters most – finding success in the classroom, on the field and in life.

Not all student-athletes are included in this decision, though, according to ESPN's Andrew Brandt:

The charge for allowing college players to unionize has been led by the National College Players Association, whose president, Ramogi Huma, joined forces with former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter to form the College Athletes Players Association.

Following the announcement, Colter let his thoughts be known:

Full details on the decision can be found here, courtesy of ESPN.com. In short, Northwestern football players who are on scholarship and haven't exhausted their four years of athletic eligibility will be permitted to vote on whether to join a union.

Rand Getlin of Yahoo Sports notes that the NLRB's decision could have a far-reaching impact across college sports:

As for Northwestern's response to the decision, the account Inside Northwestern provides the university's full statement:

Northwestern does plan to appeal the decision, per its statement. It has until April 9 to do so.

Matt Spiegel of 670 AM in Chicago looked ahead at what the NLRB's decision could ultimately mean for the future of college sports:

The decision affirmed CAPA's claim that student-athletes are university employees. It could also open the door for disgruntled college athletes to go on strike, per ESPN.com's Brian Bennett.

The players at Northwestern now have a chance to vote on whether they want to be represented by CAPA. As for what the organization itself wanted for college athletes, it made that simple on Twitter:

With the decision finally out of the way and the appeal clearly forthcoming, change is on the horizon for college athletes and possibly the sports world as a whole.

Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter.

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