Thursday December 7, 2023

Athletes as Employees?

  • Just 24 hours before the Congressional hearing, the National Labor Relations Board released an explosive memo about college athletes’ amateur status.
  • While NCAA officials opposed it in the hearing, lawmakers and one witness appeared in favor of it.
Photo: Melina Myers-USA TODAY/Design: Alex Brooks
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Just 24 hours before the Congressional hearing, the National Labor Relations Board published an explosive memo about college athletes’ amateur status. It came up several times Thursday.

General counsel Jennifer Abruzzo wrote that certain athletes should be considered employees under the National Labor Relations Act. Schools could be in violation of the act if they mislead athletes — and Abruzzo specifically attacked the phrase “student-athletes.”

This doesn’t automatically change athletes’ status. But it promised that Abruzzo will take this stance in future cases brought before the NLRB

Here’s where lawmakers and NCAA officials stand:

  • Unsurprisingly, Emmert, McWilliams, and Livingstone all opposed the idea — reflecting the NCAA’s official stance — though Emmert said “student-athlete” less than usual.
  • Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) said that NIL rights, and the NLRB’s memo, were “long overdue.”
  • Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), endorsed the College Athlete Bill of Rights and helped Northwestern football players try to unionize, so she supports the idea.
  • Huma has also long supported giving athletes protections under employment law.

Emmert and co. warned that making athletes employees might be the end of college sports as we know them — a baseless threat they’ve used every time compensation reform has been on the table.

They said that schools would be forced to cut women’s sports if they had to divert revenue to compensate football players, for example. But Title IX requires that schools provide equitable women’s sports opportunities regardless of revenue.

Either way, if any college athletes get reclassified as employees, it won’t happen for a long time. But as long as Abruzzo is in charge, the movement seems to have a friend at the NLRB.

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