N.L.R.B. Declines Jurisdiction in Northwestern Football Case

Jon Weinberg

Jon Weinberg is a student at Harvard Law School.

Yesterday, the National Labor Relations Board declined jurisdiction in a case involving scholarship football players at Northwestern University.  The complete decision can be found here.  The Board did not address whether scholarship college athletes are statutory employees under the National Labor Relations Act.  Instead, the Board dismissed the representation petition by the College Athletes Players Association by exercising its discretion not to assert jurisdiction in the case, concluding that asserting jurisdiction “would not effectuate the policies of the NLRA to promote stability in labor relations.”

The fact sheet released by the N.L.R.B. cites two primary findings as central to the decision not to assert jurisdiction:

1. The nature of NCAA Division 1 FBS football — comprised of roughly 125 college and university teams — which exercises a substantial degree of control over individual member teams, including the terms and conditions under which the scholarship players practice and play.

2. The composition and structure of FBS football in which the overwhelming majority of competitors are public colleges and universities over which the Board cannot assert jurisdiction.  Asserting jurisdiction over the single team in this case would likely have ramifications for those other member teams.

ESPN, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have more on the decision, which amounts to a victory for Northwestern and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

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