College Football Players Are Trying to Unionize, and the NCAA Is Not Happy About It

Kain ColterJohn Mersits/ZUMA

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.


Football players at Northwestern University, led by quarterback Kain Colter, took formal steps Tuesday to gain labor union representation. Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA linebacker who’s now the president of the National College Players Association, an athlete advocacy group, filed a formal petition with the National Labor Relations Board’s Chicago office on behalf of the players.

If certified, the union would be known as the College Athletes Players Association. CAPA’s initial goals don’t call for salaries for players, instead focusing on medical protection for concussions and other issues, guaranteed multiyear scholarships even if players get injured, and a trust fund players could use to finish schooling after their NCAA eligibility expires. Athletic departments of schools in the five major conferences currently generate $5.15 billion in revenue.

To no one’s surprise, the NCAA opposes to the move—on the grounds that extending medical protection and guaranteeing multiyear scholarships would detract from education:

This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education. Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize. 

Many student athletes are provided scholarships and many other benefits for their participation. There is no employment relationship between the NCAA, its affiliated institutions or student-athletes.

Student-athletes are not employees within any definition of the National Labor Relations Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act. We are confident the National Labor Relations Board will find in our favor, as there is no right to organize student-athletes.

Or, as SB Nation writer Rodger Sherman summarizes it:

This case will likely land in federal court, where it would join O’Bannon v. NCAA, a case in which a group of former players are suing to receive revenue from game rebroadcasts, DVD highlights, apparel, and other merchandise. (That lawsuit has already led to the death of Electronic Arts’ popular NCAA Football series of video games; EA settled with the players.) If the O’Bannon litigation is any indication, it may be years before we know the fate of unions in college athletics. Until then, get ready to hear a lot of griping from some highly paid college officials.

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate