MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - A ruling Wednesday by a federal labor board has the potential to change college athletics forever.
Former Northwestern University quarterback Kain Colter led the effort to allow college athletes to unionize and therefore use collective bargaining to seek benefits and compensation. On Wednesday, a branch of the National Labor Relations Board out of Chicago agreed, saying college athletes should be treated as employees.
"This entire characterization of the athletes as being amateurs and not really employees is a hoax and this opinion corroborates that," says prominent Washington, DC attorney Michael Hausfeld.
Hausfeld is currently fighting a class action lawsuit against the NCAA to require them to compensate players for lucrative video game deals that use their likeness. This particular case stems from an EA Sports college football game and involves two former Minnesota Gophers. Trial is scheduled for June.
"There is a totally one-sided relationship between the conferences, the schools and the athletes," says Hausfeld. "They have been exploiting and abusing athletes for far too long. This is a house of cards that is falling."
While Wednesday's ruling applies to Northwestern, it will likely set precedent at other schools like the University of Minnesota where student-athletes are not currently compensated and instead receive scholarships.
The University of Minnesota's athletic director released a statement in support of the current system.
"We remain committed to the academic model, as it provides all of our student-athletes with skills and opportunities to begin and continue a wide variety of career options after graduation," said Norwood Teague.
The NCAA released a similar statement following the ruling.
"While not a party to the proceeding, the NCAA is disappointed that the NLRB Region 13 determined the Northwestern football team may vote to be considered university employees. We strongly disagree with the notion that student-athletes are employees," said Donald Remy, chief legal officer for the NCAA. "We frequently hear from student-athletes, across all sports, that they participate to enhance their overall college experience and for the love of their sport, not to be paid."
"Over the last three years, our member colleges and universities have worked to re-evaluate the current rules. While improvements need to be made, we do not need to completely throw away a system that has helped literally millions of students over the past decade alone attend college," said Remy. "We want student-athletes - 99 percent of whom will never make it to the professional leagues - focused on what matters most - finding success in the classroom, on the field and in life."
Wednesday's decision will be appealed to the full National Labor Relations Board in Washington, DC.