Originally posted on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 3/27/14
Northwestern football players scored their biggest win since surprising Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl two seasons ago. This victory did not take place on the field, but in the Chicago regional office for the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB’s landmark decision ruled in favor of the College Athletes Players Association, saying the players meet all of the requirements and standards to be able to unionize. While a significant development in the push to form an official players union at the college level, the battle is far from over before anything can become finalized. Northwestern University will appeal the decision of course, which will be one of many hurdles to be jumped on the way to the first official college players union. If the union movement wins the appeal, an election to name leaders and officers must be held. That is required before a formal contract may be drafted and approved by the players union and the university. Who knows how long that could play out? Northwestern could refuse to recognize the players union when all is said and done anyway, but that would lead to the union filing for unfair labor practices. Whether the private institution would stoop to that level is anyone’s guess at this point, but we are a long way from getting to that point. “I would assume at that point the university would want to contest the determination that they [the players] are employees in court,” said Martin Malin, a labor law professor at Illinois Institute of Technology in February. “And to do that, the university would refuse to meet with the union. That would prompt the union to file an unfair labor practice charge alleging that the university refused to bargain in good faith.” The bigger picture here is how the NCAA will react. We know the NCAA is standing firm on their wobbly perch on the idea that college players are not employees and student-athletes should not be paid. That is not going to change anytime soon, but with the amount of lawsuits piling up and cracking the fortress of the NCAA, are we getting closer to a point where Mark Emmert throws up a white flag and the NCAA starts to rethink some policies and procedures? Don’t count on it, but John Infante from The Bylaw Blog suggests now may be the time for the NCAA to wake up and smell the coffee. Via Infante; Barring a quick and at least slightly surprising reversal of their legal fortunes though, the NCAA’s only recourse might be to embrace their public, quasi-governmental side. That might mean accepting greater government regulation; expanded due process for athletes, staff members, and institutions; limits on salaries; more secure scholarships; and external enforcement investigations and decisions in exchange for a broad antitrust exemption, no employee status for athletes, and relief from the ongoing lawsuits. If the NCAA were ever going to embrace that idea, now would be the time. The legal challenges make it more attractive (or at least palatable) than it has ever been. The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act makes it much more likely that Congress could be moved to action. Congress is already considering regulation of the NCAA, so the NCAA might as well adopt the strategy that the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” and try to get something in return. Embracing change can be difficult for any person or organization, but those who do adapt are more likely to survive. The NCAA may not be in total danger of annihilation, but it may be best to adapt the way they operate before it is too late. Photo: USA Today Sports
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