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ICYMI: Press Reports Highlight Hearing on Harmful Consequences of Unionizing Student Athletes

The House Education and the Workforce Committee held a hearing on Thursday to examine a recent National Labor Relations Board decision to define certain student athletes “employees.” As various news reports show, members discussed the challenges facing student athletes and expressed concerns that unionization would hurt students’ athletic and academic careers:

The debate over whether college athletes have the right to unionize moved to the U.S. Congress on Thursday, with witnesses that included Baylor University President Ken Starr voicing opposition… The hearing was prompted by a U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional director's decision in March that Northwestern University's scholarship football players could vote on joining a union. – Reuters, U.S. House hears witnesses opposed to union for college athletes

"Can the NCAA and institutions do more to protect students? Absolutely," Kline said. "Does that mean unionizing student athletes is the answer? Absolutely
not"…Would players go on strike, Kline asked, and how could that affect their academic pursuits? How could smaller colleges feasibly manage labor unions, and would institutions have to cut non-revenue sports or raise tuition to pay for labor relations? Could unionization therefore make it harder for some students to access a quality education? – Politico Pro, Kline on Athletes: ‘Forming a union is not the answer’

Rep. John P. Kline Jr., a Minnesota Republican and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said the conditions faced by athletes should be dealt with "in a way that protects the athletic and academic integrity of higher education." "The recent NLRB decision…takes a fundamentally different approach that could make it harder for some students to access a quality education." – Chronicle of Higher Education, Battle Over College-Athlete Labor Unions Flares Up at House Hearing

In his prepared remarks, Chancellor Ken Starr called the recent NLRB decision “misguided.”…“Will debate students who are obliged not only to practice, but to conduct research, likewise be considered employees because performance is not part of a narrowly defined educational experience…Simply put, the [Northwestern] decision will result in uncertainty and instability across the higher education landscape.” – Dallas Morning News, Baylor president Ken Starr to testify about unions for college athletes

The top House Republican on labor issues says Northwestern University's football team would set a “dangerous precedent” by organizing the first union for students athletes…[Chairman John Kline stated,] “perhaps the union would seek to bargain over the number of games. If management and the union are at an impasse, would players go on strike? Would student athletes on strike attend class and have access to financial aid?” – The Hill, GOP: Northwestern football union 'dangerous precedent'

Starr said that negotiating improvements for athletes would create an unequal system in which the university would have to treat some of its athletes differently depending on whether they qualified to be part of the union. He said that it would also undermine the supportive relationship that the university’s coaches and faculty have with the players because it would require the university to discuss issues with union representatives, not necessarily the players themselves. – Inside Higher Ed, The Politics of Player Unions

Stanford athletics director Bernard Muir, told the committee that if his school's athletes were allowed to unionize, the school "might opt not to compete at the level we are competing in." And in an interview with USA TODAY Sports after the hearing, he was unequivocal: "If (Stanford's athletes) are deemed employees, we will opt for a different model." – USA Today, House panel grills college leaders on unionization

Patrick Eilers, a former safety in the National Football League for the Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins, and Chicago Bears, told the panel "the crux of the problem is that student-athletes should be students, first and foremost, as the description suggests. I'm concerned that calling student-athletes 'employees' will make the system more of a business than it already is…I was a student-athlete at Notre Dame. Period. I was not an employee of the university, nor did I want to be one." – Associated Press, Witnesses Oppose NLRB Ruling on College Athletes

[Attorney, Bradford Livingston] told the committee that …the NLRA “is simply not an appropriate vehicle” for resolving disputes between universities and scholarship athletes…The lawyer also observed that in Northwestern, “walk-on” players without football scholarships were not allowed to vote on union representation. Other universities may face union organizing drives aimed at some, but not all, of their players, he said. – Bloomberg BNA, Witnesses Cite Concern for College Athletes But Disagree About Collective Bargaining

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