It's hard to imagine how the National Labor Relations Board could become any less popular among Republicans, but it certainly seems to be trying. On Wednesday, Peter Sung Ohr, the board's regional director in Chicago, ruled that football players at
The next step almost certainly will be a review of the ruling by the full NLRB. But Northwestern's prospects seem little better there, considering that the board (most of whose members are Democrats appointed by President
Ohr found that Northwestern football players were employees of the university because they received compensation (scholarships) for performing a full week's worth of work (practices, meetings, workouts and games) at the university's direction. Although the
The same rationale could probably be applied to any major college's marquee sports, as well as quite a few smaller schools' teams. If the ruling stands, it seems just a matter of time before other student-athletes follow suit. And rather than demanding bigger dorm rooms or better food, the whole point of organizing would be to extract better financial terms from their employers. The most likely target would be the revenue from broadcasts, merchandise and video games that the athletes' exploits help to sell.
Even if the ruling survives the next round of review, though, it seems certain to be challenged in court and in
Considering that disruption, the NLRB's approach may not be the right response to the issues raised by the Northwestern players who felt, as so many student-athletes do, that a scholarship isn't a fair trade for the demands the school places on them, including the debilitating injuries they may sustain. Yet those issues need to be addressed. Have the athletic programs at colleges and universities been co-opted by the professional sports leagues, which use their teams as unpaid developmental squads? Are the interests of the vast majority of student athletes -- the ones who can't make a career out of their sport -- being subordinated to those of their schools, the professional leagues and the star players?
I played a sport in college, and the experience made me a better student. But then, I spent an average of 20 hours a week on practices, games and training, not 50 to 60 hours. I don't know what the right balance is between the demands made by professors and by coaches. I'm not sure the NLRB has the answer either.