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College Athletes Can Unionize, and the NCAA's Troubles Worsen

The Northwestern Football Team gather together during a time out during a game on Jan. 1, 2013 in Jacksonville
The Northwestern Football Team gather together during a time out during a game on Jan. 1, 2013 in JacksonvillePhotograph by Don Juan Moore/AP Photo

The very foundation of the $16 billion-a-year college sports industry is trembling. In a landmark ruling, the National Labor Relations Board said that Northwestern University’s football team has the right to unionize.

With this pronouncement, the NLRB forcefully challenged the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s core premise: that undergraduate athletes are Platonic amateurs, compensated only by scholarships and education. Wrong, said the NLRB’s regional director in Chicago. They’re employees, and they get to create a union board to argue for their rights.