On August 17, 2015 the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) blocked a historic bid by Northwestern University football players to form the nation’s first college athletes’ union, dealing a blow to a labor movement that could have transformed amateur sports. It cites the fact that labor law only allows the NLRB to look at private-sector work places, but that most college football programs are at state schools. Of the 125 schools eligible to play in a college football bowl, only 17 are private schools like Northwestern University.
Jim Acho, a senior attorney in our Livonia office and sports law professor at Madonna University, predicted last year on ESPN radio and multiple other shows, that the NLRB regional director’s ruling would be overturned. He felt it would be overturned because allowing college athletes to unionize would mean the end of college athletics as we know it. It would dismantle the entire system and ruin college athletics for 90% of all universities, as most would not be able to afford to engage in collective bargaining and all that comes with it–compensation structure, worker’s comp, pensions, 401(k) long-term health benefits, etc. It would disrupt the competitive balance in collegiate athletics and make college sports, especially football, available to only a handful of select schools. Further, it would allow athletes to be available to the highest bidder with the best compensation package. As Acho explained, this would have rendered it professional sports and do away with amateurism, and, as long as these are student-athletes, this cannot abide. The NLRB panel agreed in a unanimous decision and even used some of the language in their Opinion that Acho used last year in his reasoning for why he predicted it would be overturned.
Acho appeared on ESPN radio and national and local radio shows, including the Frank Beckmann show on WJR, this week regarding the ruling.