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NU, Football Players Begin Union Case

Publication Date: 
February 13, 2014
Chicago Tribune
Alejandra Cancino

Professor William Gould comments on the possible issues faced by college football players seeking to form a union for The Chicago Tribune. 

Attorneys representing Northwestern University and football players seeking to unionize provided opening statements Wednesday in Chicago on the issue of whether college athletes are university employees.

Football players and other witnesses are expected to begin testifying next week in the same regional office of the National Labor Relations Board. Ultimately, the case could end up before the NLRB in Washington.

Northwestern’s football players are the first in college sports to seek union representation. The group has a sizable list of demands, which includes financial coverage for sports-related medical expenses, placing independent concussion experts on the sidelines during games, establishing an educational trust fund to help former players graduate and “due process” before a coach could strip a player of his scholarship for a rules violation.


William Gould IV, a professor emeritus at the Stanford University Law School and former chairman of the NLRB, said the case could take at least a year before it reached the NLRB in Washington and could drag on even longer.

”The universities and the NCAA would do anything to dispute the case and stall the case because they know that time is their friend,” Gould said.

He said football players who want to form a union will eventually graduate. If the decision is delayed long enough, he said, the union would lose the core of its supporters.

Gould said politics could also enter the case. NLRB board members are appointed to five-year terms and, in general, presidents appoint members along party lines. Democratic appointees tend to be labor friendly; Republican appointees tend to side with business interests.


The difference between the Brown and the Northwestern cases, Gould said, is that football is not related to the students’ education. “The business of football is business, not education,” he said.