In a ruling that could revolutionize college sports, a federal agency has given football players at Northwestern University the green light to unionize.
Wednesday's landmark ruling by a regional director of National Labor Relations Board means the players are deemed employees under federal law and so can create the nation's first college athletes' union.
Union lawyers argued the Big Ten school's football players are part of a commercial enterprise that generates hefty profits through their labor.
The NCAA, Big Ten Conference and the private school vehemently opposed the union drive. Northwestern argued that college athletes are students and can't be put in the same category as factory workers.
The ruling in Chicago by director Peter Ohr can be appealed to the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C.
"While not a party to the proceeding, the NCAA is disappointed that the NLRB Region 13 determined the Northwestern football team may vote to be considered university employees. We strongly disagree with the notion that student-athletes are employees.
We frequently hear from student-athletes, across all sports, that they participate to enhance their overall college experience and for the love of their sport, not to be paid.
Over the last three years, our member colleges and universities have worked to re-evaluate the current rules. While improvements need to be made, we do not need to completely throw away a system that has helped literally millions of students over the past decade alone attend college. We want student athletes - 99 percent of whom will never make it to the professional leagues - focused on what matters most - finding success in the classroom, on the field and in life."
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