Northwestern Football Decision May Not Have Much of an Impact on College Football

sports lawyer atlanta

sports lawyer atlantaThe National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is once again in the spotlight.  Following the recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Regional Office in Chicago, which allowed for football players at Northwestern University to vote on forming a union, talk has turned to the implications of the decision on big-time college football programs. As the New York Times reports, perhaps not much.  Only 20 universities in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision, or less than 15%, are private universities. The vast majority of schools competing at college football’s highest levels are public universities, and are not subject to the NLRB decision, which only has power over private employers.


One thing is clear—barring an act by the U.S. Congress, each state will be left to make its own decisions regarding the right of its public university athletes to unionize.   Around the country, college officials are looking for guidance from state houses and state-level labor boards. Twenty-four states now give some type of collective bargaining right to state employees, and both California and New York have laws on the books that consider students, specifically graduate student teaching assistants, to be public employees for collective bargaining purposes.  Other states ban collective bargaining for public employees outright, and several others are silent on the subject.


States may pass laws or administrative rules on a state-by-state basis governing the right by public university employees in each individual state to unionize, but the issue of paying college athletes in revenue sports like football and basketball is likely to keep making headlines regardless of unionization or the Northwestern football vote.  There are current efforts underway to lobby Congress to oversee the NCAA, moves by the NCAA to allow the “power conferences,” including the ACC, Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12, and the SEC, more freedom to regulate their own players, and numerous lawsuits working through courts around the country by players against the NCAA. Questions remain as to whether or not the NCAA, under mounting pressure from all sides, will agree to allow outright payments to players, or whether the bigger conferences will break free from the NCAA’s control altogether. Given the flurry of interest in this issue, the question may not be “if” but “when”. With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake on the gridiron, interest in the NCAA’s rules on compensating college football players for their “work” has never been stronger.


When you need an attorney who understands the business of sports law, you need James J. “Jim” Thomas II.  Jim began has been representing professional athletes for more than two decades ago, and has more than 35 years of experience in sports law and business litigation. Jim can also help analyze, evaluate, and resolve your existing and potential litigation in sports law matters, and in general business litigation. Give James Thomas II a call at 404-869-5248 or email him today to set up a consultation. To learn more about Jim, please visit

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