Professor Mastrosimone's Article about Northwestern University Football Players' Hail-Mary Pass Published in Huffington Post

Washburn Law Professor Joseph Mastrosimone recently published a commentary in The Huffington Post about a group of Northwestern University football players filing a petition to unionize.

Photograph: Professor Joseph Mastrosimone

The article, titled "Unionizing College Football Players Is More Than a Hail-Mary Pass" was published on January 31, 2014.

In the article, Mastrosimone calls out the language used in the National Labor Relations Board’s 2004 Brown University decision and observes that two of its four pillars don’t apply to college athletes. These two pillars include -- that their "principal time commitment" was focused on obtaining a degree, and that serving as a teaching assistant (TA) was "part and parcel of the core elements" of their Ph.D programs.

Mastrosimone refers to a 2010 Growth, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Learning of Students in College study that reports “players in Division I college football programs spent 41.6 hours per week on athletics and only 38.2 hours per week on academics.” By those numbers, the Northwestern players' "principal time commitment" was focused on playing football -- not obtaining a college degree. Further, unlike the Brown TAs whose teaching and research were required components of their degree programs, playing football is not a required course. He predicts that if the NLRB agrees, players will have the right to organize and collectively bargain without fear of reprisal.

"The simple truth is that no one knows whether these players will be granted the protection of the NLRA [National Labor Relations Act] to organize and collective-bargain for their mutual aid or protection. We will get a preliminary answer from the Board soon and will we likely have to wait many years to get a final answer from a court. But those who write off the Northwestern players' petition as a Hail-Mary pass do so at their own peril. Besides, every once in a while a player catches a last-second pass heaved to the end zone," Mastrosimone concluded.

The complete article can be read here: Huffington Post article.

UPDATE: On March 26, 2014, an NLRB Regional Director held that the Division I football players are "employees" under the NLRA and have the right to form a union. The Regional Director found that the NLRB's Brown University decision (in which the Board found that graduate students were not employees) was distinguishable. The March 26 decision, which will be appealed, has potential wide-ranging implications.