By Ken Reed

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), on behalf of the National College Players Association (NCPA), has filed a claim against the University of Southern California (USC), the Pac-12 conference and the NCAA, charging unfair labor practices. The NLRB plans to argue that athletes at USC are employees of the three groups mentioned and that their rights, including compensation, have been unlawfully restricted.

“We are working to make sure college athletes are treated fairly in both the education and business aspects of college sports,” NCPA executive director Ramogi Huma said.

“Gaining employee status and the right to organize is an important part in ending NCAA sports’ business practices that illegally exploit college athletes’ labor.”

NLRB general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo said that misclassifying college athletes as student-athletes instead of employees “deprives these players of their statutory right to organize and to join together to improve their working/playing conditions if they wish to do so. Our aim is to ensure that these players can fully and freely exercise their rights.”

It’s taken a long time but college athletes are finally — albeit slowly — gaining the civil and economic rights that the rest of American citizens enjoy. Athletes have gained more flexibility when it comes to transferring schools, flexibility that other students have always enjoyed. Moreover, in the last couple years, name, image and likeness (NIL) rights for college athletes have become a reality across the college sports landscape. (Side note: NIL, while certainly a positive development, requires some degree of standardization across states and conferences. The country is in the wild, wild west period of NIL — which isn’t sustainable from an athletic competition perspective due to states having different rules regarding what’s allowable and what isn’t.)

It’s important to note that this latest unlawful labor effort by NCPA and NLRB is not focused solely on economic compensation. If successful, college athletes would have the right to organize and bargain for better healthcare benefits, etc., as well.

“NCAA sports has used the words ‘student-athlete’ and ‘amateurism’ to skirt labor laws and deny generations of college athletes fair treatment,” said former University of Iowa basketball player and NCPA athletes’ board member Jordan Bohannon. He called the NLRB action an “important step toward much needed change.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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