In a long awaited decision, a unanimous National Labor Relations Board declined to assert jurisdiction in the Northwestern University football players case, and therefore left unanswered whether college football players who receive grant-in-aid scholarships are “employees” under the National Labor Relations Act. (Northwestern University and Colleges Athletes Players Association (CAPA), 362 NLRB No. 167 (2015)).
After reviewing the Regional Director’s 2014 decision—that NW scholarship football players are employees of the university and have the right to organize and form a union—the Board’s dismissal of the representation petition and refusal to assert jurisdiction (after considering the matter for more than one year) was disappointing for the players and the union, but a clear victory for NW University.
The Board concluded that the exercise of jurisdiction would not effectuate the policies of the National Labor Relations Act to promote stability in labor relations (and also on the football field, apparently). While the Board left open the possibility of revisiting the issue of whether college scholarship athletes are employees and therefore have the right to form a union and to engage in collective bargaining for wages and benefits, it would not appear that such a decision will be rendered anytime soon. At least not until after the upcoming 2015-2016 college football season. No doubt ESPN is breathing a big sigh of relief.