Thursday, March 27, 2014

NLRB ruling is a tempest in a teapot

By now, everyone has learned of the National Labor Relations Board regional director’s opinion that Northwestern University athletes are employees of the institution and therefore eligible to unionize, if they so desire.

The ensuing uproar and bandwidth consumed by the media coverage is much ado about nothing. Here’s why.

First, this was a ruling by a lower level administrative law judge, whose jurisdiction stops at the borders of his region. It has no effect whatsoever on schools in the Pacific Northwest, East Coast or Southeast. When Northwestern appeals to the entire NLRB in Washington, DC, then that board’s decision will have national consequences.

Even then, Northwestern or the would-be player’s union has the right of appeal to a US Federal District Judge, whose decision is certainly to be appealed to the Circuit Court of Appeals. That decision is then subject to review by the US Supreme Court.

We are looking at years of litigation, so don’t expect to see groundbreaking on union halls on college campuses anytime soon.

Second, the NLRB has jurisdiction over private organizations. Northwestern is a private school in Illinois. The ruling has absolutely no effect on public schools, regardless of their location. Northwestern and Notre Dame are in play. But Illinois is not. The Big 10 is not affected in any way, either.

Last and most importantly, the ruling has no effect on NCAA rules, either. If a player receives extra benefits not provided to the student body as a whole—consisting of anything of value—that player’s eligibility is revoked and the relationship between the institution and the player ends right there.

Summing it all up: We have a 20-page decision by a single administrative law judge that will be subject to years of litigation and appeals. It affects the small percentage of private schools in college athletics and regardless of the eventual outcome of this process, it will have no effect on the overarching governance of the NCAA rulebook.

I don’t see what all the ruckus is about, do you?

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