Northwestern football team holds union vote, but result is cliffhanger

Story highlights

  • Northwestern University football players vote Friday on whether to unionize
  • Supporters say athletes, who generate huge money for schools, deserve protections
  • Vote result won't be known until after National Labor Relations Board reviews case
Northwestern University's football players voted Friday on whether to form a workers union -- one of the most high-profile efforts by college athletes to demand more rights, possibly including payment.
But the result of the vote might not be known for months.
The National Labor Relations Board allowed the vote after its Chicago office ruled in March that Northwestern football players can unionize, deeming them school employees because of the hours they put in, the control the university has over them and the revenue they generate.
However, Northwestern asked the NRLB for a review -- and the NLRB said the results of Friday's vote won't be made public until that is finished. The review could take months.
Still, the group that wants to represent the players -- the College Athletes Players Association -- said Friday was special because the athletes, by voting, exercised "their rights under labor laws -- rights the NCAA has fought hard to deny them."
"The NCAA cannot vacate this moment in history and its implications for the future," CAPA founder Ramogi Huma said.
If Northwestern loses the review, the players' votes would count. A majority will have needed to vote in favor for the effort to be successful.
Northwestern is arguing that players are not university employees but "students, first and foremost.'
Some players at Northwestern say they want better medical coverage, concussion testing, four-year scholarships that cover the entire cost of attendance, and the possibility of being paid. They're led by Huma and former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter.
Not all of the players were in favor. Two of the team's leaders -- quarterback Trevor Siemian and running back Venric Mark -- said they wouldn't vote for unionizing.
Mark told reporters on April 19 that he hoped the "NCAA does understand some things do need to change, but we do not need a third party to come in between us and the coaches."
NCAA President Mark Emmert has called the idea of unionized collegiate sports teams "grossly inappropriate."
"It would blow up everything about the collegiate model of athletics," he said,
The NCAA contends that athletes are paid in the form of a free education. Athletes also get team-issued shoes and other athletic gear, paid travel, coaching and free medical aid.
The Northwestern players' vote came weeks after a class-action lawsuit filed by current players who want the NCAA compensation cap to be erased, and more than a month before trial is set to begin in the case of former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon lawsuit's against the NCAA.
O'Bannon is suing on behalf of current football and men's basketball players, and is seeking to get them a share of the millions that the NCAA makes off of their likenesses.
On Thursday, the NCAA proposed changes that would give the five power conferences -- Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pacific-12 -- more options in how they treat athletes.
Among many proposed changes, the NCAA may consider allowing schools to increase scholarships to cover the cost of living, and not just the cost of tuition, for athletes.