College athletes will get paid It's just a matter of time after NLRB

Here’s how college sports change forever. At some point over the next several months, a labor union will engage with a group of football players at a prominent private school like Notre Dame, Southern Cal, Stanford or Boston College and encourage them to rally support for unionization within the team. Enough players will sign union cards to take them to the nearest National Labor Relations Board regional office. There will probably be pushback from the school to the idea of unionization, so a hearing will take place. The NLRB’s regional director will rule in favor of the athletes’ right to form a union, designating them as employees. After the various appeals and challenges, and a secret ballot vote with enough players voting for unionization, the NLRB board in Washington, D. C., will ultimately recognize that college athletes have collective bargaining rights. When that happens, the same process will take place at other private schools, which will be forced to negotiate with players on issues like health care benefits and revenue sharing. And then, when it becomes clear the unionized programs have a recruiting advantage over public schools, state legislatures even in conservative, anti-union states will begin to figure out how to change their laws so that their athletes can be part of the movement. Eventually, the last wall of amateurism that the NCAA has tried for decades to uphold — direct payments to college athletes — will come tumbling down.“In general, I’d say we’re in the red zone finally,” said former University of Minnesota regent Michael Hsu, who sits on the volunteer advisory board of the College Football Players Association, a group that advocates for unionization as a pathway to greater rights for college athletes. “This is kind of the spark we needed to let the players know they really do have rights and they should be thinking bout them.”The spark came Wednesday in the form of a memo from Jennifer Abruzzo, newly appointed by President Biden to be the NLRB’s lead attorney. In the memo, Abruzzo states that college athletes are employees, not “student-athletes,” and makes clear that she will support any effort by athletes to “act collectively to improve their terms and conditions of employment” if brought to the NLRB. Though the memo itself doesn’t immediately change college sports — it doesn’t even guarantee that the NLRB would rule favorably on a unionization effort — the climate has changed significantly since 2015 when the NLRB handed the NCAA a victory by rejecting efforts to unionize the Northwestern football team. Even then, the NLRB’s decision didn’t really strike down the merits of unionizing or say that college athletes aren’t employees. Instead, the NLRB showed deference to NCAA rules, reasonably concluding that a unionized football team playing non-unionized football teams would be pretty disruptive for college sports. While the NCAA applauded the decision, it was a Pyrrhic victory.

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