College basketball fans are currently hanging on the results and emotions of March Madness. But that phrase is only a slight exaggeration of the recent ruling from a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board which, if upheld, will launch Big Labor into a new arena: college sports.
The likely impetus for this ruling is that the unions see an untapped source of dues and membership from an industry that generates billions of dollars of revenue every year.
It’s only the most recent in a string of labor-friendly directives under President Barack Obama’s NLRB.
Players at Northwestern, bankrolled by United Steelworkers, want the ability to collectively bargain for better “working conditions,” rights to money made off their likenesses, access to more health care and, perhaps one day, compensation.
But full tuition scholarships, room and board, access to world-class training facilities, and potential entryway to professional sports — valued at tens of thousands of dollars per year — have always been the understood compensation for the talent, ability, and time college players give their schools.
The ruling is wrought with questions that will be decided on appeal, and ultimately in court.
For example, since the employee status of the students depends on an economic contract between two parties, would college teams be allowed to take walk-ons who don’t have scholarships?
Would this cause unfair discrimination toward athletes who deserve scholarships?
And since the ruling only applies to private schools, what about players and coaches at public colleges and universities?
The decision is not a shock, coming from the most pro-labor NLRB in decades.
Obama has stacked the board with union-friendly appointees, some maneuvered around the appointment process during a Senate recess.
There’s no doubt college athletes work many hours a week to keep the scholarships they receive.