Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald and athletic director Jim Phillips responded to the National Labor Relations Board ruling on Monday that said the university’s football players cannot form a union.
The NLRB unanimously dismissed a petition from Northwestern football players citing a lack of jurisdiction and declined to rule on whether NU scholarship football players are university employees.
Both Fitzgerald and Phillips released statements through Northwestern. Fitzgerald also was quoted after practice on Monday, telling BTN’s Tom Dienhart, “I am proud of our guys for working through the process. ... We now can move forward.”
“Our focus is, was, and will continue to be on delivering a world-class experience -- academically, socially and athletically -- every day for each of our 494 student-athletes,” Phillips said in his statement. “Both locally at Northwestern, and broadly as chairman of the NCAA Division I Council, it has been remarkable over the last several years to witness the rapid evolution of college athletics with student-athlete well-being as the top priority. This outstanding university firmly believes in the paramount importance of the health, safety and well-being of its students and will continue to be a national leader, as it has been over the last several years with guaranteed, four-year, cost-of-attendance scholarships for all 19 varsity teams, extended medical benefits and unparalleled professional development programming.”
Fitzgerald said in his statement that the entire petition process brought the Wildcats closer together.
“Our young men chose to attend Northwestern to compete on the field at the highest level, earn a world-class education and prepare for the rest of their lives,” Fitzgerald said. ”They have displayed maturity beyond their years through this process, and the experience has unquestionably brought us closer together as a football family. This group posted the highest cumulative GPA in program history during the 2014-15 academic year, earned a record 38 Academic All-Big Ten honors last season and is excited to return to the field this fall to play the game they love and compete for a Big Ten championship.”
The NLRB said it could not assert jurisdiction due to the “nature and structure” of the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). It also acknowledged not having jurisdiction over state schools, which constitute more than 85% of FBS teams. Northwestern is a private school.
“As the NCAA and conference maintain substantial control over individual teams, the Board held that asserting jurisdiction over a single team would not promote stability in labor relations across the league,” the NLRB said in a release.
Kain Colter, a former Northwestern quarterback and co-founder of the College Athletes Player Association—a labor organization formed to “assert college athletes’ status as employees with the right to collectively bargain for basic protections”— responded to the NLRB ruling in a series of tweets.
In April 2014, Northwestern requested a review of the initial unionization ruling made by Peter Sung Ohr, regional director of the NLRB in Chicago. Ohr had voted in factor of the CAPA.
Also in April 2014, Northwestern football players voted on whether to unionize. A majority of the 76 eligible players was required to vote in favor of unionization in order to organize under CAPA, but the voting results were nullified by the NLRB’s decision on Monday to dismiss the petition.
- Mike Fiammetta