NLRB seeks input on Northwestern football union case


The National Labor Relations Board is opening the docket for input over the Northwestern University football team’s controversial plan to become the first unionized college sports program. 

The NLRB on Monday issued a formal announcement inviting briefs from the two sides in the dispute and other interested parties wishing to weigh in as amici.

The Northwestern football Wildcats, traditionally regarded as the doormat of the Big 10 conference, won an uncharacteristic victory in late March, when the labor board ruled that the team’s players who receive scholarships should be considered employees and can vote to unionize. 

Northwestern opposed the ruling, which also drew fire from some congressional Republicans who predicted the decision would serve as a dangerous precedent and upend the world of college athletics.

A day before the players voted, the NLRB announced it would reconsider the ruling in response to the university’s appeal. The election went forward as planned, but the results were sealed and the votes have not been counted.

The labor board is now giving the players, the school and other interested parties until June 26 to file briefs in the case.

In particular, the board is asking parties to weigh in on the decision to award the scholarship players “employee” status because of the hours they put in, and whether that designation should necessarily give them collective bargaining rights.