Following the NLRB’s recent ruling that Northwestern University football players are “employees” of the school, should they be paying taxes on their scholarship money?
That’s only one of the questions that came out of NLRB regional director Peter Ohr’s ruling that the Evanston, IL players should be allowed to form a union and bargain collectively with university management. The decision came in response to a petition filed by a group called College Athletes Players Association on behalf of the Northwestern players last January.
According to a New York Times story, Ohr ruled that Northwestern’s scholarship football players should be eligible to form a union based on a number of factors, including the time they devote to football (as many as 50 hours some weeks), the control exerted by coaches and their scholarships — which Ohr deemed a contract for compensation.
“It cannot be said that the employer’s scholarship players are ‘primarily students,’ ” Ohr wrote.
There’s a lot of dough at stake here. According to the Times, the NCAA’s television contract for the new college football playoff system is worth $7.3 billion over 10 years, and the current deal to broadcast the men’s basketball tournament is worth $10.8 billion over 14 years.
Wait a minute …
So, you’re saying, Hey, the argument over whether big-time college athletes should be paid has been going on for years, and what does this decision really mean to employers anyway?
And the answer is: Not much, really. First off, it’s clear that the matter will be appealed … and appealed and appealed. First stop is the full National Labor Relations Board. Then there’s federal appeals court. The case very well might go all the way to the Supreme Court.
And all that could easily span years. Nonetheless, the case brings up a couple of interesting discussion points:
- It’s pretty clear that the NLRB hasn’t changed its pro-employee, pro-union stance.
- Where would football players fit into the FLSA? Under the “professional” exemption? Or would they be hourly workers, and therefore eligible for overtime?
- Would anti-bias laws apply? Like, say, to the recruiting process. Would the schools have to widen the group of high school students considered for scholarships?
- Again, would bias laws apply when one player is promoted to the first string over a smaller, slower person who’s in a protected class?
- And what about that tax thing, anyway? The feds need the money.