Peter Sung Ohr, the regional director of the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board, ruled Wednesday that Northwestern football players under the College Athletes Players Association have the right to unionize against their university, a decision that eventually could have far-reaching impacts on college sports.
The ruling comes less than two week after the university and CAPA submitted their briefs to Ohr for his consideration. Northwestern released a statement on the precedent-setting decision, saying that it is disappointed in the ruling and plans to appeal to the National Labor Relations board in Washington, D.C.
Tim Waters, the political director of the United Steelworkers, who are funding CAPA in this endeavor, called it a "complete victory" for the players, saying that "the board ruled in their favor on every question."
The main question is whether the athletes are employees, but Ohr also ruled in favor of CAPA on other smaller questions, including whether CAPA is a labor organization and whether the unit of players represented is appropriate.
The appeals process will likely go further than just the national board. It could very well enter the courts, going all the way to the Supreme Court, and take years for a decision to be reached.
If unionization is granted by the end of the process, players from other private colleges will also be able to join. Athletes at public schools will have to file petitions with their state labor boards.