Northwestern University quarterback Kain Colter announced plans to form the first labor union for college athletes. The College Athletes Players Association, in concert with the Steel Workers (who have agreed to pay the legal bills for the effort) will try to unionize college athletes. The big question: whether college athletes can be considered employees. If certified by the National Labor Relations Board, the union will be called the College Athletes Players Association. In order for the association to be recognized as a union, the players have to prove they are employees and that the NCAA or each school is its employer. Most experts indicate this is an uphill legal fight.
Worker’s compensation lawyers see everything through the prism of worker’s compensation law. Most State statutory schemes presume that a worker is an employee, except where the employee may be considered a volunteer or an independent contractor. Where the top five power conferences ACC, SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten, Big Twelve generate nearly $10 billion annually, it is hard to claim players are “volunteers” in this system.
Some college athletes who have been seriously injured have filed worker’s compensation claims. Those claims have all been dismissed on the notion that the injured player was not a “employee” and thus not entitled to benefits. (see our prior blog posts on this issue)
Athletes who successfully use their college careers as a platform for a later career in professional sports are not the norm. In many situations, college players are injured, precluding any further athletic career for pay. There is no compensation awarded for this lost potential career. Furthermore, if an athlete is injured while on campus, once they leave school or graduate, the school generally does not covered future medical costs for that injury.
Worker’s compensation lawyers will be monitoring the case with interest.