NCAA Says Northwestern Union Case Will Wind Up in Supreme Court

The National Labor Relations Board ruling allowing Northwestern University’s football team to become the first college sports union will eventually be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, NCAA President Mark Emmert said.

“This will go to the Supreme Court, it’s such a fundamental change,” Emmert said in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” today. Emmert said the perception that the television money from college football and basketball “goes to a bank” is wrong. The money goes to pay for other college sports, he said.

A National Labor Relations Board director in Chicago said last week that Northwestern’s football players have the right to form college sports’ first labor union, a decision that could change the $16 billion business of top-level university athletics.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, while not a party to the NLRB action, said in a statement that it disagrees with the decision and opposes a move to “completely throw away a system that has helped literally millions of students over the past decade alone to attend college.”

The ruling said the school’s 85 scholarship football players are employees, giving them the right to representation and collective bargaining. The school has said it will appeal to the full NLRB in Washington. The decision only affects athletes at private schools and not at public universities.

Trust Fund

The players are trying to secure guaranteed coverage of sports-related medical expenses for current and former athletes, as well as compensation for sponsorships. They’re also seeking to create a trust fund to help former players finish their degrees and push for an increase in athletic scholarships.

The 123 schools in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision turned a $1.3 billion profit on $3.2 billion in revenue in the year through June, according to data schools submit to the U.S. Department of Education.

College athletes, who can receive scholarships though aren’t paid, help generate more than $16 billion in television contracts, as well as revenue from sponsorships, ticket and merchandise sales, and payouts for championships.

Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, a co-founder of the players association who compared the NCAA system to a dictatorship before the labor board hearings, testified that players spend 40 to 50 hours a week on football and have to sacrifice their bodies to do so. He also said that the time commitment kept him from pursuing a plan to enter the school’s pre-med program.

The case is Northwestern University, 13-RC-121359, National Labor Relations Board, Region 13 (Chicago).