Did you know that college football players are not “primarily students”? Well, not if the students are football players on regimented schedules, who receive grant-in-aid scholarships to play football from which their school profits, according to a Regional Director at the National Labor Relations Board. In a decision issued yesterday, the Regional Director concluded that Northwestern University football players who receive scholarships are statutory employees under the National Labor Relations Act, and, therefore, directed an election for the players to decide whether to unionize in light of a petition a union recently filed to represent them. The Regional Director relied upon the common law definition of an employee in rendering his decision, finding that: the school’s interest in the students initially stems from their football talents; letters the University sends them offering scholarships to play football (called tenders) are contracts; the school controls the players through rules and regimented workout and playing schedules; and the scholarships the players receive are compensation that cover living expenses. The Regional Director distinguished the case from Board precedent finding that graduate students are not statutory employees, by reasoning that football is unrelated to the students’ academics unlike the case involving the graduate students.
With the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament set to begin next week, employees everywhere will be filling out their tournament brackets. As “March Madness” sweeps the nation, employers face special challenges — particularly in maintaining a productive and efficient workforce at a time when distractions are abundant. In addition, employers should ensure that any tournament pools organized at the workplace are operated in accordance with the law.