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Northwestern calls ruling on athlete unionizing 'faulty' in NLRB filing

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Northwestern assailed the decision of a National Labor Relations Board regional director that the school's scholarship football players are employees and can unionize in an appeal filed Wednesday with the full board.

"In this unprecedented decision, the regional director set out to alter the underlying premise upon which college varsity sports is based," Northwestern lawyers wrote.

The 50-page request for review repeatedly jabbed Peter Sung Ohr, the NLRB's regional director in Chicago who ruled in favor of former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter and the College Athletes Players Assn. on March 26.

Ohr's findings are described as "faulty," "tortured" and "jaded and inaccurate." Northwestern said he "slanted the facts," "downplayed ... ignored [and] discounted undisputed evidence" and filed a ruling that "reads like a brief submitted by an advocate."

Northwestern asserted scholarship athletes are students, not employees, and that much of the time athletes invest in their sport is voluntary. Unionizing athletes, the university said, would "create chaos" because of differing labor regulations from state to state.

In one section, Northwestern claimed scholarship football players aren't "initially sought out, recruited and ultimately granted scholarships" because of their athletic ability. Instead, the university said, they are recruited because of academics like any other undergraduate.

Northwestern also distanced itself from NCAA and Big Ten rules, describing itself, instead, as a "conduit of information" regarding the regulations.

"Northwestern does not control those rules or regulations in any respect," the brief said.

That differed from NCAA President Mark Emmert's perspective on the organization's membership when he spoke Sunday at Arlington, Texas, site of the men's basketball Final Four.

"It is an association. It is a group that makes decisions in a ponderous, democratic process," Emmert said during a news conference.

Northwestern disputed athletic scholarship offers are "employment contracts" or that scholarships are compensation.

"We are confident that if the board accepts Northwestern's request for review," Ramogi Huma, president of the College Athletes Players Assn. wrote in an email Wednesday, "it will uphold the regional director's ruling that Northwestern football players are employees with the right to unionize."

The group, according to Huma, isn't interested in salaries for college athletes. Instead, it is seeking an array of reforms that would close the gap between the actual cost of attendance and scholarships, improve medical care and allow athletes to profit off use of their likenesses.

The players group has one week to formally reply to Northwestern's appeal.

A union vote for Northwestern's football players — something publicly opposed by Coach Pat Fitzgerald — is scheduled for April 25.

nathan.fenno@latimes.com

Twitter: @nathanfenno

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