Football Players Fight For Union At Northwestern Could Change Landscape Of College Sports

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UPDATED: Thursday March 27, 2014 5:49 PM

A court decision to let Northwestern University football players form a union has been called a pivotal moment in college athletics.

Some say it gives athletes a chance to get fair compensation from an industry worth billions, but others believe it's a decision that could create a tangled web of legal issues in college sports.

The National Labor Relations Board's decision is limited to Northwestern football players at the moment and could potentially be extended to other successful private schools.
 
Public institutions, like Ohio State University, are governed differently so this doesn't apply to them - but schools with high revenue athletics are paying attention to this.

The issue was one of the topics on the 97.1 The Fan’s “Bishop and Rothman” show.

Former OSU and former NFL player, Bobby Carpenter, filled-in for Anthony Rothman and weighed in the National Labor Relations Board decision. It found the amount of time demanded of football players at Northwestern and the financial benefit the university gained from the players' time and talents - made the players "employees" of the university.

"Football, basketball that is their full time job and they try to play it to the best of their abilities and this would give them a little bit of compensation to make them like a normal student, “said Bobby Carpenter.

Carpenter says playing football in a major football program is demanding.

"They LOVE it. You get here and run out in front of 105,000 people and it is infectious. It is unbelievable!” said Carpenter “But you can still love something and still feel like you are getting taken advantage of."

Carpenter says this ruling should encourage big programs to think about compensating players who bring in billions of dollars in revenue.

But one labor lawyer, Matthew Austin, says this decision has far reaching implications.

"Are they now entitled to workers comp when they get injured on the field? Are they entitled to unemployment if they get cut or because of an injury and they no longer can work? Are they now entitled to unemployment?” said attorney Matthew Austin.

But Carpenter says most players just want basic compensation.

"I tell people this, it wouldn't take a ton to soothe a lot of these football players, basketball players. They're just a normal student like everyone else,” said Austin.

Northwestern says it will appeal.

The issue goes from Region 13, in Chicago, to the National Board in Washington, D.C.

Attorney Matt Austin says it's unclear how long it will take, but he says he believes the national board will side with the current decision.

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