Several years ago, Northwestern football players tried to prove that they are employees within the confines of federal labor laws, opening the door for unionization. It didn’t work.
Now, the National Labor Relations Board is taking another run at the issue. Via Liz Mullen of Sports Business Daily, the NLRB filed a complaint on Thursday against USC, the Pac-12, and the NCAA regarding the core question of whether control exercised over student-athletes transforms them into employees.
The NLRB seeks an order forcing USC to re-classify “student-athletes” as employees.
Per the report, the issue centers on USC handbook rules that specify how players should conduct themselves on social media and during interviews. These rules, in row opinion of the NLRB, speak to a level of control that arguably makes the players into employees.
The complaint contends that the players have been deliberately misclassified in order to prevent them from engaging in “protected concerted activities” through union representation.
The school, the conference, and the NCAA issued separate statements disagreeing with the claim. USC contends that the proposed finding “would significantly undermine the educational experiences of our student-athletes.” The Pac-12 “strongly disagrees” (a close cousin to “strenuously objects”) to the effort. The NCAA claims the effort “appears to be driven by a political agenda and is the wrong way to help student-athletes succeed.”
It’s another example of the long-overdue reckoning that big-money college sports has avoided, for decades. The comeuppance commenced in 2021, with the opening of the NIL floodgates and the ensuing chaos that college sports deserves. Perhaps it will continue with a recognition that the players are employees, and that they should have the right to band together and demand more favorable terms of employment.
A hearing has been set for November 7.