House hearing on the unionization of athletes

A House Committee plans to conduct a hearing on May 8 regarding the possible unionization of Northwestern University’s football team. The hearing is titled “Big Labor on College Campuses: Examining the Consequences of Unionizing Student Athletes,” and will be held by the Education and Workforce Committee.

A regional chairperson of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has recently allowed the Northwestern Wildcats to form a union. The team voted on the issue April 25, but the ballots were immediately impounded by the NLRB. They probably will not be counted until after the NLRB issues a decision, USA Today reported.

NLRB Regional Director Peter Sung Ohr has ruled that Northwestern football players on athletic scholarships are university employees. Northwestern has since requested a review of this decision, which the NLRB granted.

Committee Chairperson John Kline said, “The NLRB’s decision represents a radical departure from longstanding federal labor policies.” Kline also said, “Classifying student athletes as employees threatens to fundamentally alter college sports, as well as reduce education access and opportunity. The committee has a responsibility to thoroughly examine how the NLRB’s decision will affect students and their ability to receive a quality education.” Witnesses for the hearing have not been named, USA Today reported.

The hearing represents only the most recent congressional interest in Division I sports. CBS Sports reported that Rep. Charles Dent (R-Penn.) and Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) brought a bill to increase due process for NCAA programs accused of misconduct. It would also make four-year scholarships mandatory for athletes participating in contact sports. Beatty and Dent also introduced a bill restricting Title IV funds to colleges if they are members of athletic associations failing to meet certain conditions. These include minimum requirements for health and safety and financial aid, as well as an infractions process. This bill has nine co-sponsors.

Title IV of the Higher Education Act (HEA) deals with federal student aid programs and is currently the subject of a Negotiated Rulemaking Committee that met for the last time in April of this year.

The HEA was implemented to improve institutions of higher education and provide financial assistance to students. Title IX of the HEA famously forbids gender-based discrimination in college athletics. The HEA has been reauthorized nine times and is currently in its tenth reauthorization. Before every reauthorization, Congress changes the HEA’s programs or adds new ones.

Rep. Beatty has also introduced the Concussion Awareness and Education Act. If it passes, a national system for monitoring sports-related concussions in people aged five-21 will be implemented.

The NCAA said, “As written, both of these proposals will only become law through amending the Higher Education Act of 1965…While we expect that a number of proposals related to the Higher Education Act will be introduced, it is widely believed within the higher education community that the reauthorization process will take substantial time to complete.”

Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) has also brought legislation relating to high-revenue sports programs. Cardenas’ bill requires colleges earning $10 million or more annually from sports programs to provide athletes with a benefits package. This package must include financial aid when an athletic scholarship is lifted unless it was lifted for misconduct or unsatisfactory grades, USA Today reported.


-Dionna Cheatham ’15, Junior Politics/Opinions Editor

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