NCAA declares student-athletes are not employees and will fight unionization

The NCAA does not support the attempt by Northwestern players to unionize and will fight the effort, the organization said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

David Remy, the NCAA’s Chief Legal Officer, said in a statement on behalf of the NCAA that no employee-employer relationship existed between the NCAA and its student-athletes and that the National Labor Relations Board would see that and quash any attempt for college athletes to unionize.

This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education. Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize.

Many student athletes are provided scholarships and many other benefits for their participation. There is no employment relationship between the NCAA, its affiliated institutions or student-athletes.

Student-athletes are not employees within any definition of the National Labor Relations Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act. We are confident the National Labor Relations Board will find in our favor, as there is no right to organize student-athletes.

Jim Phillips, Northwestern's vice president for athletics and recreation, agreed with the NCAA's assessment of its relationship with student-athletes.

"Northwestern believes that our student-athletes are not employees and collective bargaining is therefore not the appropriate method to address these concerns," Phillis said. "However, we agree that the health and academic issues being raised by our student-athletes and others are important ones that deserve further consideration."

Tuesday morning, several Northwestern players, with the support of Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association and the United Steelworkers union, filed paper work to a Chicago regional office of National Labor Relations Board in an attempt to become a union. It is the first-ever instance of a potential union in college athletics.

The goal of the group, which is called the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) and led by Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, is to gain scholarships that cover the full cost of attendance, better concussion and medical protection, multiyear scholarships that are granted even in case of injury and a fund that would allow players to receive aid to finish school after their eligibility expires.

"The No. 1 thing that I want to accomplish is to finally give athletes a true voice," Colter told Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel. "They need to finally have a seat at the table when rules and regulations are determined. They need an entity in place that can negotiate on the players' behalf and have their best interests in mind."

Tuesday is the first step in what could ultimately be a long and arduous battle for student-athlete rights. In its current form, the unionizing would likely only apply to Northwestern players. If other players from other schools wanted to join the union, it would create all sorts of questions depending on public and private institutions, each state and the classification of an employee as defined by each state.

There is no timetable for the National Labor Relations Board to reach its decision.

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Graham Watson

is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at or follow her on Twitter!