NLRB Ruling That Northwestern Football Players Can Unionize Is a Game Changer

Article ID: 615674

Released: 26-Mar-2014 4:00 PM EDT

Source Newsroom: Indiana University

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  • Credit: Indiana University

    Galen Clavio

Galen Clavio, a sports communication and marketing expert at Indiana University, described the ruling by the National Labor Relations Board's allowing Northwestern University football players to unionize "potentially a game changer."

“This ruling is potentially a game changer for the college athletics model as a whole. The primary things that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled were that the football players at Northwestern were not 'primarily students', that their football coaches exercised strict control over their schedules, and that their athletic scholarships were, in effect, compensation in exchange for work at school, with the work in this case being their football duties. This was a bit of a surprise ruling, as many in the legal profession thought that the players were going to lose this ruling.

“Northwestern has already announced that they are going to appeal, so there is still more to come in this case. But this is a major step towards a change in the way college athletics is treated by the courts, and could lead to a system where football players, and potentially other college athletes, could form their own unions and collectively bargain with college athletic departments on a range of issues, from salary to health benefits to other items.”

Clavio is an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology in the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington. He can be reached at and 855-3367. For additional assistance, contact Tracy James at 812-855-0084 and


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