NLRB denies Northwestern football players right to unionize

Former UB football player and Buffalo Bill, Derek Brim

BUFFALO, N.Y.(WIVB)- Monday’s unanimous ruling by the National Labor Relations Board surprised a lot of people in the collegiate sports world.

The decision overturned the ruling of the NLRB’s Chicago office, thus denying Northwestern football players the right to unionize.

The NLRB has jurisdiction over Northwestern, a private university, but it doesn’t have any power over the state schools that make up the rest of the Big 10.

Part of the Board’s rationale stated that having just one unionized team in a conference doesn’t make sense.

Adjunct professor of sports law at UB, Nellie Drew, said while the athletes at Northwestern lost the battle, they won the war.

“The athletes managed to put enough pressure on the NCAA and the institutions to take a very strong look at some issues that have been percolating for a very long time,” Drew told News 4.

Former UB football player turned Buffalo Bill Derek Brim is pleased with the NCAA’s new flexibility towards meal-plans for athletes.

“If you’re going to work out and then you’re going to practice, you know, you’ll need food before and after. And sometimes the way your class schedule is set up, you may go from class straight to practice without eating anything,” Brim said.

There’s another reform Drew credits Northwestern’s team with jump-starting.

“You have the the four-year scholarship contract back now. As opposed to the renewable one-year contract, which left an athlete at risk of severe injury and not having a guaranteed scholarship going forth for the rest of their college career,” she said.

Monday’s ruling did not however, make an official decision on whether or not college athletes are university employees, as Northwestern football players argued they are.

“I didn’t feel like an employee because I was going something I really loved to do. However, from being at the pro ranks to being at the college ranks, there’s a lot of similarities,” Brim said.

He mentioned time constraints, and said while in college, juggling classes, he was also dedicating around five hours daily to football.

Brim told News 4 he would have had some reservations, but ultimately would have wanted a union when he was in college.

Overall, he said the NCAA has made some important steps forward. Steps Drew said would not have been possible without the efforts of Northwestern football players.

Drew also noted that the NLRB reserved the right to revisit this issue.

She said their ruling was based on facts specific to the Northwestern case, and thinks unionizing could come up again in the future. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Note: Comments containing links are not allowed.

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