An attempt by college athletes to form a union will have to answer one question: do college football players qualify as employees? Lawyers for players at Northwestern University will argue to the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago that scholarships and stipends given to players amounts to paying them to play a sport, and thus makes players employees of the school. Northwestern’s lawyers argue they are primarily students, but John Adam, the attorney representing the players, says those distinctions aren’t mutually exclusive.
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“You can be an employee of the university and be a student,” Adam said, “but the football program takes extensive time from these athletes, that’s what they’re devoted to, and the fact that they are also students does not mean they are not entitled to the protections of labor law.” The school’s position is that athletic scholarships pay for school, and shouldn’t be treated as compensation for playing a sport. “Our position is that they are students first and foremost, and they’re there on scholarships, and that the scholarships are there for their educational experience,” said Bob Rowley, Northwestern’s director of media relations.
Both sides will call witnesses next week, though a final decision from the board is not expected until later this month. Any ruling on the status of players would only apply to those at private universities.
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