In a groundbreaking move, a majority of Northwestern University football players have filed papers seeking to be recognized as members of a union. Their objective? To have college football players officially categorized as employees in an effort to give them better protections and more power.
The filing advances the NCAA/amateurism debate that has raged for years. While some former athletes have spoken out on the power imbalance in NCAA sports, the discussions have by and large been theoretical till now. Former UCLA basketball standout, Ed O'Bannon, is an exception. He is currently suing the NCAA and EA Sports seeking money damages related to profits the two earned from sales of video games that included O'Bannon's image.
The Northwestern players' filing was submitted to the National Labor Relations Board, the agency charged with oversight of unions. Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA football player and current president of the National College Football Players Association, filed the Petition along with union cards signed by an undisclosed number, but a "significant majority," of Northwestern players.
The players' representatives pointed out that payment was not their immediate goal, and they stressed that the players were happy with Northwestern. Instead, the noted that Northwestern is acting within the rules of the system, which they are working to change for the better of all players – including those that come in the future.
"This about finally giving college athletes a seat at the table," said Huma. "Athletes deserve an equal voice when it comes to their physical, academic and financial protections."
This move is expected to be fought by Northwestern University and the NCAA. It is sure to impact how scholarship athletes are treated, for example whether their scholarships are guaranteed even after injury, what access they have to medical treatment and, of course, how concussion protections, safeguards, and treatment are implemented going forward.
Universities and the NCAA generate billions of dollars in revenue from the athletics department. Everyone in the system gets paid, accept the athletes. This is a bold move sure to shake up the status quo. And it's something to that lawyers, fans and athletes will be watching intently.