John Marshall Hosts LERA Discussion on Northwestern University Football Players Union

Regardless of the outcome of the Northwestern University football players union case, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and how it deals with student-athletes will change. That’s according to Gerald Berendt, a labor law professor at John Marshall, who made the comments during a discussion of the case.

The panel talk, hosted by the Labor Employment Relations Association, focused on possible legal and educational repercussions of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) approving Northwestern players’ petition to unionize (Case 13-RC-121359). Berendt was joined by Robert Perkovich, an arbitrator and visiting assistant professor at DePaul University, and Stephen A. Yokich, an attorney at Cornfield and Feldman who represents the College Athletes Players Association.

Unionizing a college team elicits several tricky legal questions, including how or whether you define that student-athlete as an employee of the school, Berendt said. Issues arise, too, when considering how many hours those students and non-athletes dedicate to their extracurricular activities, Berendt explained.

He compared student-athletes to theater majors, and other students who spend equal extended time on practices and performances. What a field is to a football player, a stage may be to a theater major. Likewise, Berendt noted, theater majors generate some revenue for their schools through the price of tickets for their performances, just as football players help generate revenue when they play in games.

Berendt noted that all of the publicity about the Northwestern case has drawn attention to the “shameless exploitation of student athletes. The NCAA has largely operated in favor of (educational institutions), not necessarily always in protection of the athletes.

“There are going to be changes. That’s a good thing,” Berendt said, noting that the case likely could prompt discussion over the “thorny” issue of the inequality in money between men’s and women’s collegiate sports.