November 7, 2023, may become a monumental day in the history of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). It is the first day of a potentially groundbreaking hearing. Region 21 of the National Labor Relations Board will be hearing a case brought by members of the football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball teams against the University of Southern California (USC), the PAC-12, and the NCAA. The crux of their argument is that the three major entities should be considered “joint employers” who have systematically misclassified the players as “student-athletes” rather than as employees.
The implications of this Board hearing could have far-reaching implications across the country. The NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo has already signaled that, in her opinion, certain players at colleges and universities should qualify as employees of their institutions. If the administrative law judge were to agree with Abruzzo’s opinion, the impact on the national landscape of collegiate athletics would be immediate.
If these players are found to be employees, each player would be entitled to the benefits of traditionally employed individuals, such as compensation, overtime, social security, worker’s compensation, health and safety protections, protections against discrimination and harassment, and a statutory right to unionize and collectively bargain for a share of collegiate sport revenues.
While being found to be employees would be looked at as a major win for the impacted players, such a determination would cause complicated issues for colleges and universities across the country. These issues include compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Immigration Nationality Act, among others. Further, having some teams but not others qualify likely will create a two-tier system throughout the country. This divide would be even further enhanced if the Board finds certain players, but not others, qualify as employees.
Testimony will not be heard until the week of December 18, at the earliest. Higher education institutions, players, and fans alike will be monitoring this hearing as it progresses.
Jackson Lewis’ Collegiate and Professional Industry Group is available to assist universities, conferences, or other stakeholders in dealing with matters before the Board or otherwise involving the appropriate classification of student-athletes.