CHICAGO — The National Labor Relations Board has dismissed a historic ruling that Northwestern University football players are school employees who are entitled to form what would be the nation's first union of college athletes.
The NLRB released its decision Monday. The losing side does not have an option to appeal.
Northwestern had appealed last year's ruling by a regional NLRB director in Chicago that led to a vote by football players on whether they wanted to form a union. Those ballots were sealed during the appeal and will now be destroyed.
Monday's ruling says unionization could throw off the "competitive balance" between teams by setting different standards for practice, pay and other conditions at union and non-union schools.
Advocates say unionization would help athletes protect their health and financial interests.
Northwestern released the following statements from some of its officials regarding the labor board's decision:
STATEMENT BY ALAN K. CUBBAGE, VICE PRESIDENT FOR UNIVERSITY RELATIONS, IN REGARD TO THE DECISION BY THE NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD
Northwestern University is pleased by today’s decision issued by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which declined to assert jurisdiction and dismisses a petition filed by the College Athletes Players Association seeking to become the collective bargaining representative of Northwestern University football players who receive grant-in-aid scholarships. Because the NLRB declined to assert jurisdiction in the case and dismissed the petition, the union election held in April 2014 is moot and the votes of Northwestern scholarship football players cast at that time will not be counted.
As the University has stated previously, Northwestern considers its students who participate in NCAA Division I sports, including those who receive athletic scholarships, to be students, first and foremost. We applaud our players for bringing national attention to these important issues, but we believe strongly that unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns raised by student-athletes. We are pleased that the NLRB has agreed with the University’s position.
Northwestern's position remains that participation in athletics is part of the overall educational experience for our student-athletes, not a separate activity. Therefore, we intend to continue to work with our students, and others, to address the issues regarding the long-term health impact of playing intercollegiate sports, providing additional grant-in-aid support and providing academic support and opportunities for student-athletes.
The welfare of our student-athletes is paramount here, and we’re very proud of that. We are committed to ensuring their health, safety and well-being and that they are provided with every resource possible to grow and develop as well-rounded individuals. We now need to examine these issues nationally to ensure that student-athletes nationally are provided the same opportunities as those at Northwestern.
Comment from Jim Phillips, vice president for intercollegiate athletics and recreation
“Our focus is, was, and will continue to be on delivering a world-class experience -- academically, socially and athletically -- every day for each of our 494 student–athletes. Both locally at Northwestern, and broadly as chairman of the NCAA Division I Council, it has been remarkable over the last several years to witness the rapid evolution of college athletics with student-athlete well-being as the top priority. This outstanding university firmly believes in the paramount importance of the health, safety and well-being of its students and will continue to be a national leader, as it has been over the last several years with guaranteed, four-year, cost-of-attendance scholarships for all 19 varsity teams, extended medical benefits and unparalleled professional development programming.”
Comment from Pat Fitzgerald, head football coach
“Our young men chose to attend Northwestern to compete on the field at the highest level, earn a world-class education and prepare for the rest of their lives. They have displayed maturity beyond their years through this process, and the experience has unquestionably brought us closer together as a football family. This group posted the highest cumulative GPA in program history during the 2014-15 academic year, earned a record 38 Academic All-Big Ten honors last season and is excited to return to the field this fall to play the game they love and compete for a Big Ten championship."