An advocacy group filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board on Tuesday, the latest step in a campaign to grant employee status to college athletes and give them the right to competitive pay, collective bargaining and other benefits and protections.
The National College Players Association has filed unfair labor practice charges against the NCAA, Pac-12 Conference, UCLA and the University of Southern California as sole and joint employers of Bowl football players Subdivision and men’s and women’s Division I basketball players.
“College athletes meet the definition of employee under labor law,” said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the NCPA and former UCLA linebacker. “They are highly skilled in their sport, have paid scholarships and stipends to perform athletic services, and they perform their work under the extensive supervision of their employer. These athletes deserve all the rights afforded to them under labor law, just like other hard-working Americans.
The NCPA’s decision comes about four months after NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo wrote in a memo to NLRB field offices that in her view, college athletes who earn millions for their schools are employees. .
The guidance was expected to lead to a new challenge to college sports’ longstanding view that athletes are amateurs who are not eligible for employee benefits.
“It’s a logical consequence of Ms. Abruzzo releasing her memo,” said Michael LeRoy, a professor at the University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations. “The General Counsel really provided a blueprint on how to file a complaint successfully.”
A spokeswoman for the NLRB said Abruzzo would not comment on the NCPA filing as it is an active matter. The NCAA and Pac-12 declined to comment. UCLA and USC did not respond to messages.
Ramogi said the NCPA’s charges were bolstered by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that found NCAA limits on education benefits violated antitrust laws. The move has already led to sweeping changes to the NCAA and its nearly 500,000 athletes, including their ability to now earn money based on their stardom.
LeRoy said between the NLRB process and possible appeals in federal courts, it could take three or four years for the unfair labor practice charge to go to trial.
Football and basketball players are the only athletes mentioned in the complaint because they are the only revenue-generating sports. Huma predicted that women’s basketball, while nowhere near as lucrative as soccer and men’s basketball, will become more so as the NCAA responds to pressure to increase promotion of the women’s national tournament.
Including only athletes in fee-paying sports is an important distinction, Huma said, as the Abruzzo memo referenced failed efforts by football players in the North West to form a union and said those players, as well as other athletes “in the same situation”, were qualified as employees.
“We’re not against other athletes seeking employee status,” Huma said. “(But) FBS football and Division I basketball players are all similar in that they are the only varsity athletes to receive full scholarships and receive less than fair market value.”
“We know the industry can afford to treat FBS football and Division I basketball players as employees,” he said. He added that schools could eliminate unpaid sports if all Division I athletes were considered employees.
Huma said fair compensation for FBS football and Division I basketball players is a matter of economic and racial justice. Black athletes make up the majority of rosters in those sports and, he said, “face a disparate impact from the NCAA’s illegal compensation ban on sports.”
Employee status would also allow varsity athletes to earn commensurate wages in the free market and ultimately form a union and negotiate collective agreements.
“If athletes unionized immediately without wanting to suspend their work, they would be pushed into a bad CBA,” Huma said. “Athletes will exert the most pressure toward a fair deal by first establishing employee status, which will lead to open-market wages.”
The NCPA is based in Southern California and chose to bring unfair labor practice charges against UCLA and USC so that a ruling could apply to both public (UCLA) and private school athletes ( USC). Huma said he expects the NLRB Los Angeles field office to handle the matter.
The NCPA also sponsored a bill in California that would pay college athletes fair market compensation, create state enforcement of Title IX gender equality laws, and preserve all sports.
“It complements our NLRB effort nicely,” he said.