NLRB grants review of Northwestern football decisionNews added by Benefits Pro on April 25, 2014

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By Allen Greenberg

The National Labor Relations Board on Thursday said it granted Northwestern University’s bid to review the agency’s decision allowing Northwestern’s football players to form a union.

According to a March 26 decision by an NLRB regional director, the university’s grant-in-aid scholarship football players are viewed as employees under the National Labor Relations Act.

The player’s vote on whether to unionize will take place Friday, but the ballots will be impounded until the board issues a decision affirming, modifying or reversing the regional director’s decision, the agency said.

The NLRB will accept amicus briefs, “to afford the parties and interested amici the opportunity to address issues raised in this case.”

The football players went before the board to seek recognition for the group they formed to combat what one quarterback likened to a “dictatorship” over college athletes.

College athletes aren’t paid – beyond their scholarships – despite generating more than $16 billion in television contracts, as well as generating revenue from sponsorships, ticket and merchandise sales, and payouts for championships.

“Being a football player at Northwestern is hard work, and make no mistake about it: It is work,” John Adam, an attorney for the football players, said in his opening statement to the NLRB officer. Failure to maintain conditioning year round puts their scholarships at risk, he said.

Among the player group’s goals are guaranteed coverage of sports-related medical expenses for current and former athletes, and compensation for sponsorships. The group also is seeking to establish a trust fund to help former players complete their degrees and push for an increase in athletic scholarships.

The Evanston, Illinois-based school opposes the union drive, rejecting assertions it’s a “football factory.”

Alex Barbour, an attorney for Northwestern, said the players are “first, foremost and always students as opposed to employees.” Each of the scholarship football players gets the same benefits whether he plays or not, Barbour said.

With 76 scholarship players at the Evanston, Illinois, school eligible to vote, it will take a simple majority for the union to succeed. The players are not compelled to vote.

Bloomberg Business News contributed to this report.

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