Northwestern Football NLRB Ruling – Play Ball!

Well now. Just when you think you’ve heard it all the National Labor Relations Board comes out with a new mind-blowing decision. On Wednesday, March 26th, Peter Sung Ohr, NLRB Regional Director, Region 13, decided that scholarship football players at Northwestern University are eligible for union representation under the National Labor Relations Act ( This agency once again demonstrates its limitless stupidity.

This Regional Director had to decide, in the instant case, first whether or not the University is an employer under the Act. It is … no dispute there.  Then, he had to decide whether or not this independent group was a labor organization under the Act. He did … maybe. Finally, he had to decide whether or not these student athletes are employees under the Act. He did … in a tortuous and shamelessly pro-labor, poorly reasoned analysis.

The Regional Director wrongly dissected the Brown University case with the flawed logic that the graduate students at Brown (who were ruled not to be employees of the University in Brown) were students first and paid graduate assistants (employees) second. In comparison, he stupidly states that the football players are paid employees (as players) first and minimally or not even students at all. I wonder if this clown ever touched a ball of any kind, because he certainly doesn’t understand the connection between playing college football and being enrolled as a student. The players are absolutely students, and if they lose that status, they will not be able to participate in interscholastic sports, nor will they continue to receive their scholarship.

From a practical labor relations standpoint, the hilarity spawned by this misguided decision would provide weeks of fodder for Saturday Night Live writers.


  • Seniority – What do you do when the senior fullback files a grievance because the freshman superstar is starting in front of him and receiving all the playing time?
  • Discipline – Will the union file a grievance if a player is disciplined for showing up late for practice as is the case now at Northwestern?
  • Job Duties – How about the punter who doesn’t even attempt to tackle the other team’s punt returner, because tackling him is “not my job.” I’m a punter.

And, then there are contract negotiations. What will the players’ union expect to gain in a labor agreement that their members are not already receiving, when those current components are so highly regulated by NCAA rules? Management concessions at the contract table could result in sanctions by this august body, including scholarship reductions, prohibition from bowl game participation, and the ultimate, banishment from collegiate football.

It is doubtful that even this NLRB will affirm this ridiculous decision should a review occur, but even if they do back up Mr. Ohr, Northwestern should get some sensible relief from a court of competent jurisdiction.

Best regards,

William R. Adams, Ph.D.

President & CEO

Adams, Nash, Haskell & Sheridan